East Carolina placekicker Mike
Barbour will be looking across the field at his former program
when the Pirates play Maryland at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC
on Wednesday, Dec. 29, at 2:30 p.m.
"I kind of laughed to myself,"
Barbour said of his reaction when ECU's opponent for the
Military Bowl was announced. "Everyone was saying we might play
them. My reaction was, 'I seriously doubt it because they went
8-4.' I told them that I knew they would hate to go to the DC
bowl. It turned out that they fell through the cracks and had to
Barbour (pronounced Bar-BOOR)
has stayed in touch with some of his old teammates at Maryland.
"I called my buddies over
there, like the punter (Travis Baltz) and the snapper (Tim
Downs) and we were just laughing about it because eight months
ago when I was over there, we were laughing and saying, 'What if
we ended up playing each other in a bowl game? That would be
pretty funny.' It's kind of a funny situation.
" ... We're kind of excited to
be able to see each other and hang out again. It's friendly
Barbour saw very limited duty
for the Terps last season. He got in on two Terps kickoffs last
season in a 42-32 Maryland loss to Wake Forest in Winston-Salem
but didn't put his foot into the ball either time.
"I don't even count it,"
Barbour said. "I didn't even kick the ball. I was more like a
decoy out there in an onsides (kick situation). Yeah, I got in
Barbour is eligible for the
Pirates this season because he was a non-recruited,
non-scholarship athlete at Maryland who was granted a release
from the Terps program.
Wake led Maryland 35-10 at the
half but the Terps rallied and Barbour was called on for two
second half kickoffs.
"There were two kickers," he
said. "There was me and (Nick) Ferrara out there. The first one,
there were two of us out there so they didn't know which one of
us was going to kick it. He kicked it deep and I just ran down
to cover it. The second time, I pretended like I was going to
kick it. I ran by and then he kicked it. I was pretty much a
Barbour has been anything but a
decoy since winning the placekicking job at ECU in preseason
practice. He has made 14 of 16 field goals and 54 of 55
conversion kicks for a team high 96 points.
Mark Nelson was originally the
special teams coach on Ruffin McNeill's first-year staff at ECU.
McNeill promoted Clay McGuire to coordinate special teams after
Nelson resigned following his improper involvement in summer
workouts. Nelson assisted Barbour's transfer to ECU.
"Coach Nelson did a great job
recruiting Mike to come here through the situation that he was
in and we're real fortunate to have him," McGuire said this
week. " ... We're real happy to have him here at ECU."
The kicking game was a key
ECU's 20-17 loss to Arkansas
in the Liberty Bowl last season as the Pirates missed three
tries from inside 40 yards during the last 1:03 of regulation
play and overtime.
"I didn't watch it but I've
heard all about it," Barbour said.
Former ECU kicker Ben Hartman
struggled in the last game of his college career in Memphis
although he had booted six game winners, including four that
came on the last play of the game.
Barbour said the 23-degree wind
chill at last year's Liberty Bowl was no doubt a factor that
hindered the kicking game.
"It's definitely harder to kick
in the cold," Barbour said. "Practices have been pretty cold.
The balls freeze. They get a little flatter when the air's
colder and it compresses a little bit. The balls just don't get
that spring when they start to harden up. That's it. It just
takes distance off the ball. I've been kicking it pretty
accurately. It's just that my max range is about 45 yards
instead of about 55."
Barbour is hoping the natural
grass field at RFK isn't frozen which would make it hard for him
to plant his left foot on his kicks.
ECU is 6-6 overall, a good
season after 28 seniors and most of the coaching staff departed
from a 9-5 team in 2009. Maryland has gone from 2-10 in 2009 to
win six more games this season, the second best improvement in
the football bowl subdivision behind Miami of Ohio.
"They've definitely done a full
360 and then some," Barbour said. "Last year, they were just
like a lot of young guys. They lost 30-some seniors and it was
like it was a whole new team. They didn't catch any breaks. They
lost a bunch of close games. It's kind of nice to see they've
turned around and been able to play somewhat up to their
Barbour was an all-state kicker
in high school at St. Anthony's in Melville, NY. Barbour's
personal trainer advised him that ECU was losing Hartman and
punter Matt Dodge from the 2009 team. It looked like a situation
where he could go in and compete for a job.
"I made friends here right away
and fit in real well," Barbour said.
Ben Ryan went into preseason
camp as ECU's placekicker but has settled into the punting and
kickoff duties with the emergence of Barbour, a junior.
"Coming out of spring, if you
had said that Ben would not have been the placekicker for us, I
would have said, 'You're crazy,' " McGuire said. "He had a great
spring but it just worked out where we were better off with him
as a kickoff guy and punter."
Ryan is averaging 39.8 yards
One of the highlights for the
Pirates in McNeill's first season at the helm was
a 33-27 win over N.C. State
in Greenville on Oct. 16. Barbour kicked a 31-yard field goal
with 1:04 left in regulation to tie the score at 27. ECU had the
ball first in overtime and drove to score on a 1-yard keeper by
Dominique Davis. Barbour came on for the usually-automatic
conversion kick and was wide right, his only missed PAT of the
"That was just a pretty
terrible hit by me," Barbour said. "I just got real lazy about
it and didn't think much of it."
The Wolfpack was in position to
win with a touchdown and an extra point but an interception by
ECU freshman safety Damon Magazu at the goal line got Barbour
off the hook.
"I didn't even know what to
think," Barbour said. "I just thanked (Magazu) about a thousand
times after that. It was one of those moments where your
teammates have your back. That's what being a teammate is
Barbour kicked his longest
field goal of the season, a 52-yarder, in
a 54-42 win at UAB on
Nov. 11. The win made the Pirates bowl eligible. He also kicked
a 41 yarder against the Blazers to complete a series in which
backup quarterback Brad Wornick had to come in for Davis.
"When I was called out for the
52-yarder, I was kind of relieved I could finally get a
legitimate long attempt," Barbour said. "I was just focused on
trying to treat it like every other kick but it was something I
personally needed to get and for the team I needed to get."
McNeill said Barbour's range is
calculated in pregame warm-ups based on his performance with
factors such as wind.
"We know what yard line we have
to be at to be in Barbour's range," McNeill said.
Will Smith is ECU's long
snapper and backup punter Trent Tignor is the holder.
"We've been pretty solid,"
McNeill's family approach at
ECU is different from the atmosphere at Maryland, according to
the kicker who has been in both programs.
"I would say politely that
(Ralph) Friedgen (Maryland coach) treats it more like a business
than anything," Barbour said. "Ruff treats it more like family.
Every time we have a meeting or a practice, about five times a
day, the whole team breaks down on three and we say, 'Family.' "
Barbour isn't projecting
himself into any game-deciding situations against his former
teammates, although that potential is there given his role for
the Pirates. He said he won't be thinking about doing anything
other than doing what he does as ECU's placekicker.
"I don't feel like I have to
prepare myself for something like that," Barbour said. "Every
kick is the same for me. I'm just going to go out there and
finish out strong. That's all there is to it."