WILMINGTON, N.C. – Sometimes a kicker's athletic value is questioned, but his importance in decisive game situations is never in doubt. North Carolina 2004 commitment Connor Barth does not expect to be treated any different than a quarterback or any other position player on the field.
"We are just as big of a part of the team as anybody else," Barth said. "When it comes down to the end of the game and we need that field goal; we believe that we can do that. [Players and coaches] don't treat me different at all. They treat me just like I'm any other player on the team."
According to Hoggard head coach Scott Braswell, Barth could easily start at wide receiver this season for the 2002 Mid-Eastern Conference champions if the need arose.
"He has had an outstanding work ethic for the last three years," Braswell said. "He has really focused himself on becoming a Division I kicker. He is probably the hardest working kicker in North Carolina. He's an exceptional athlete."
With Dan Orner set to begin his final season at UNC, the likelihood for early playing time certainly enticed Barth and his family. However, it is almost certain that he will get the opportunity to vie for the starting punting position as well.
Punting, an area the Tar Heels have struggled recently, is something Barth will work on improving during his upcoming senior year with the Vikings. It's a much different skill than placekicking, as Barth explained:
"With a soccer ball, when you kick it, you go off to the side," he said. "But when you're punting a football, you have to go straight on. That was probably the hardest thing that I had to learn."
In between his sophomore and junior seasons, Barth won the field goal distance competition at Virginia Tech's Fourth Down Sports Camp with a 51-yarder. He won the same competition at the Ray Guy Camp with a 55-yarder.
And perhaps the most memorable moment of Barth's career occurred in January when he attended the U.S. Army All American Bowl National Combine and was named the event's top kicker. Kicking directly off the ground, he was 100 percent on field goal attempts from inside the 50-yardline.
But remaining focused includes keeping one's head in the now. Barth has a defined list of goals to accomplish in his final prep season, long before he will enroll at UNC.
Barth hopes to get a chance to break the Vikings all-time field goal record of 53 yards. He is also striving to get all his kickoffs into the end zone and make every field goal. Finally, he expects to make the 2003 Shrine and U.S. Army All-American Bowl rosters.
"I want to be a major contributor to my team so that we can repeat as conference champions and go to the playoffs," he said.