WILMINGTON, N.C. - In the late 1960s, two foreign National Football League newcomers appeared on the scene, and would go on to revolutionize the landscape of the sport's kicking game. Jan Stenerud and Garo Yepremian were soccer-style pioneers, as traditional kickers such as Tom Dempsey and Jim Turner, would soon become a distant memory.
It has never been proven that kicking with the upper arch and side of the foot provides any more distance than kicking with the toe (Dempsey holds the NFL record for the longest field goal in a game, along with Jason Elam, at 63 yards). Yet, soccer style kicking does provide for more consistency and, perhaps like a golf swing, the kicker can generate more elasticity in the foot's contact with the ball by approaching it from the side.
Enter Connor Barth, North Carolina's first commitment for 2004.
"It is not the person with the most leg strength that kicks the ball the farthest," Barth said. "It depends mainly on your form and how fast you get your leg through the ball. I can get my leg stronger, but it's just the speed with which I bring my leg through.
"With a soccer ball, you want your shots to be down low," Barth said. "With field goals, you want them to be high."
Barth, a Buffalo, N.Y. native, whose family ultimately moved to Wilmington after living in Chicago and Washington, D.C., played soccer ever since he was a child.
But growing up a Bills' fan, Barth always had a good knowledge of football. Along with soccer star Cobi Jones, he also idolized Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed, though Barth would not participate in organized football until his ninth grade year at John T. Hoggard High School.
By his junior season, when he was instrumental in leading the Vikings to a 10-4 record and the Mid-Eastern 4A/3A conference title, Barth had replaced his round spotted balls with oblong pigskin ones. That year he was successful on 11 of 14 field goal attempts, including a 50-yarder, and hit 53 of his 54 extra point kicks. He put 75 percent of his kickoffs into the end zone and punted 42 times for a 38.2 average with a long of 50.
At the prep level, Barth has never missed a field goal attempt from inside the 40-yard line. He has successfully kicked 101 extra points on 107 attempts (94 percent) and had a string of 40 consecutive PATs in 2002.
"He has a very good opportunity to kick as a freshman - right at the very beginning," father Tom Barth said. "He likes the pressure. So for him, it's good that he will be able to go right in there at a Division I school and be 'the guy.'"
N.C. Central head coach Rod Broadway, a former UNC assistant, began communicating with Barth while he was a sophomore at Hoggard. Then replacement Brad Lawing picked up where Broadway left off on Barth's recruitment.
"I was just really impressed by the coaching staff and John Bunting," Tom Barth said. "He just exudes love for that place. That's why we The fact that he came back there.we just had the feeling that he is going to turn things around there.
"The academic reputation is tremendous, and there is tradition there. The facilities are incredible - top grade."
Notre Dame was also an option for Barth, but he really wanted to remain in state and was won over by Carolina's coaching staff and the beauty of the UNC campus.
And on June 15, Barth made his decision public, claiming possession of the Tar Heels' first verbal commitment of the 2004 recruiting class.
"The first time I went up there, I just felt like I wanted to be there," Barth said. "I just think it is different there than any other school. It's really a college town. On game day, everyone just goes crazy up there, and the academics are unbelievable."
Though not unheard of, being offered a scholarship as a freshman kicker is quite an accomplishment. Barth's mentor is Dan Orner, who stormed onto the scene in his first year as a walk on at Carolina, after sitting on the bench for two years at Michigan State.
Orner was also instrumental in getting Barth to come to Carolina. The two formed a friendship during UNC camps, and the two have been in touch ever since.
"Dan Orner is just in love with Carolina," Tom Barth said. "He thinks it is a great place. He just talks about the coaching staff and the integrity that they have."
Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow.
Up Close with Connor Barth, Part I
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