Mike Barth Not One To Kick Old Habits

"Stick with what brought you here." How many times have we heard that sports cliché? That's how the ASU kicker approached his craft since that infamous performance against North Carolina three weeks ago. With the Devils winning their last two games by four and three points respectively, coaches and players are happy that the current Pac-10 Special Teams Player of the Week didn't change his kicking ways, while contributing to ASU's undefeated conference record.

Some may argue that when considering vital factors for success for a kicker, leg strength is a distant second to the kicker's frame of mind, Barth seemed to agree with that theory when we asked him about the reasons for that woeful Oct. 5th night against the Tar Heels. "It has to be mental. I make field goals all the time. It's not like I forgot how to kick (smile). I missed the first one, and I go to myself ‘what the hec'? And just jog off the field. The second one I hit the pole, and I'm saying "oh my gosh I missed two easy field goals'! From there it was like a domino effect. I was getting real mad, and I was freaked out on the sideline, trying to change my swing. But I really didn't have to fix anything. I really thought I had to correct it, and I wanted to show that it was working. But I'm happy that I didn't change anything in my technique."

The local Mountain Pointe high school graduate actually made the most of that uncharacteristic performance. His performance the following week against Oregon State, while somewhat average (2 of 4), was good enough to secure a win in nail biting game. The final score at Oregon, 45-42, speaks volumes of the importance of Barth's 3 of 3 feat last Saturday. Consequently, he won the Pac-10 Special Teams Player of the Week award. How does he view what has transpired in the last three games? "I did take the approach that this (the North Carolina game) happened for a reason, because now I'm working that much harder in practice and feeling stronger for the rest of the season. I think that I got better against Oregon State, but last week I really came out. Against Oregon State I missed kicks I should have made. I think I lost my focus a little, and missed kicks I wasn't supposed to miss. Last week I had a determination that I'll make all my kicks. Nobody on our team was going to be denied or be stopped against Oregon, so I guess that made an impact on me…I'm just more determined than ever, and now when I make field goals, it's that much sweeter. Especially when I help the team win like in the Oregon game. The fact that I was struggling the last couple if weeks, and for me to come out and make a difference was real huge for me I think what happened against North Carolina will help me for the entire season."

Stadium elements such as noise and turf type can usually impact a place kicker more than any other position on the field. However, Barth says he does a good job reconciling with those elements. "I think the crowd noise is worse for the guys lining up on offense. For me it's not a big deal. I'm just so focused I don't hear the crowd. I just look at (holder) Matt Cooper's hand to see when it goes up, and then I know it's my time to kick. It's his second year he's holding for me, and we worked together in the summer too. He does coach me on what I do wrong, and that helps a lot. Jay Breckenridge is a really good snapper; He's money on every snap. It's great to have such a great holder and snapper. It makes my job a lot easier." Even though Barth plays the majority of his games on natural grass, he's not adverse to the field turf that exists at Oregon and other teams in the conference. "Our grass is so nice here that it isn't much of a difference kicking on field turf. But on grass you can get messed up spots where everybody was kicking before, especially on extra points. The nice thing about field turf is that it's smooth all over. On Astroturf you have to change cleats, but not on field turf. It's a real nice surface to kick on."

While he wasn't recruited by the current coaching reign, the senior attributes much of his success to ASU's Special Teams coach Tom Osborne, who is considered on the best in the nation in his profession. Barth explains the coach's impact: "He gets everyone to believe in his scheme. The character of this team is the special teams. Players used to come in here as freshman and say, ‘I'm the starting tailback I'm not playing special teams.' Now, all of our best players are on special teams. He shows us stats and video clips on how special teams can make a difference and win games. That's makes you buy into his scheme. You see that there's a correlation - the best teams in the country have the best special teams. We just believe in what he's teaching." Trickery is one of Osborne's trademarks, as evident in the Sun Devils' fake punt (the second of the year) at Oregon while down 21-7. Barth's last trick play took place under the former coaching reign, but he's itching to play that deceptive role again. "That fake field goal against Arizona was the highlight of my career. I hope I get another chance to do it. I doubt that it will happen again, but if it helps the team I hope I can do it."

Much has been written this season about the team's chemistry and healthy locker room. No one would know that better than the team's kicker – a position that gets more than its fair share of ribbing and heckling from teammates. "Sometimes players mess with me and say ‘you're weird. you're a kicker.' I feel like I'm a normal guy (smile). I think the kickers think everybody else is strange (smile). It helps us out that all the kickers do the conditioning drills together with the players, and we're really all like brothers on the team. Some teams the kickers don't work out with the rest of the players. I know that it would never happen here with (Strength) Coach Kenn (smile)."

No one would blame the Sun Devils kicker if he was thinking about a pro career. However, Barth knows there's a time and place to entertain those thoughts. "I haven't thought about the NFL at all. I'm just going from week to week thinking about the next game. The NFL will take care of itself. I haven't received letters from any NFL teams, but I'm confident that I'm a good kicker. The good thing about kicking is that you're not judged by your 40 time or how much you bench. It's just how you kick." While he may not think about playing on Sundays, that topic frequently comes up with his former teammate, punter Nick Murphy (currently not signed with any NFL team). The two talk once a week, and Murphy's experiences have been enlightening to say the least. "It's really eye opening to hear him talk about how it is in the NFL. He's one of the best punters I've ever seen. But you can be the best kicker in College Football and not make it, but if you're one of the top ten running backs you'll make it. They're not that many Kickers in the NFL, and they always get better each year. Playing in the NFL is one of my goals, and I think I'll achieve it." Nevertheless, ASU's leader in scoring (69 points) is on track to graduate next year with a Finance degree, and has no qualms not continuing his Football career.

The senior is just one more Sun Devil in a long list of local Phoenix area players who decided to play for the home team. Barth recalls the recruiting process back then. "I committed to Cal, but ASU was my first choice. Cal put pressure on me, saying that if I didn't commit to them now they would offer another kicker. When you don't have big brothers or someone else to talk to, you don't understand the process and are pressured to do things you may not want to do. But ASU was my first choice. Even if Nebraska or Florida State offered me, I still would come here." Barth started his career in Tempe mostly as a kickoff and extra point kicker. He connected on all of his nine PAT's, and sent the majority of his kickoffs into the end zone. His lone field goal in 1999 was a 46 yarder. He loves the fact that he was able to make his mark as a true freshman. "The fun thing about a new kicker, is that you're are expected to contribute right away, and you really have a chance to make an immediate impact." These days, he handles only field goals and extra points. Teammate Greg Pieratt has barely edged him out for kickoff duties. The competitive Barth has no problems giving credit where due. "It doesn't bug me. He has an extremely strong leg, and great hang time. It's close because his hang time is just a little better than mine. I think he's doing very well for the team, and that's great. I know I'm a good kickoff player, and I'll do a good job if needed."

This week he will face Washington's John Anderson, who ranks second in the conference in field goals. Competing against your counterpart can only go so far according to Barth. "I know he's a good kicker. When you play against someone like that, you feel that you really need to bring your ‘A' game. It would be embarrassing if the other kicker were doing much better than you. I want to do well, but I try not to think about the other kicker. You're really judged by individual performance. I just want to beat Washington overall, not just their kicker." Speaking of beating the Huskies, Barth dispels any worries that an overconfident Sun Devil team, following a win at Oregon, will show up on Saturday. "Everyone is saying now that we have to get our work done (in practice), and that we can't be too high. We're not gonna think that all we have to do is show up, and we'll beat Washington. Against North Carolina we weren't cocky after the Stanford win. We just beat ourselves. I don't think anybody can beat us if we're on our game and do the things we need to do – it doesn't matter who we play. Games are won based on what you do during the week in practice. I'm sure coach Koetter and the leaders on the team won't let us not practice hard." However, there is one positive attribute Barth and his teammate will take from the improbable win in Eugene. "The Oregon win asserted our belief that we can beat any team. All the stuff we did in the off-season, practices, and film session – it's all paying off. So we're actually more attentive to those things."

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