by Steve Leventhal, Special to IC
CHICAGO --- In a profession where you are only as good as your last kick, former Tar Heel Connor Barth has managed to carve out an eight-year career in the NFL. From 2004-2007 Barth booted a team record 54 field goals at UNC. This year, the Chicago Bears signed him to replace the popular Robbie Gould. Listen to the full the in-depth interview in the audio player atop this page, or read below for a partial transcript ...
What schools were recruiting you out of high school?
I had some options. It was really between Ohio State and North Carolina. At OSU, I would have had to redshirt behind Mike Nugent, who’s obviously a very successful kicker in the NFL [Cincinnati Bengals.] But coach Bill Dooley’s son was my holder in high school, and he always told me “you should go to your in state school and stay close to home,” and that stuck with me. Another guy, Dan Orner, who kicked before me at Carolina, he’s my kicking coach now. He worked with me, and I knew he was graduating, and I could come in as a true freshman, so it all kind of fell into place. It just felt like a perfect place to be. My dad, he’s a professor, so education is big for us, and our family. Getting an education from Carolina would be a huge thing in the long run, if football didn’t work out.
How did you become a kicker?
Playing soccer. That’s what I thought I was going to do. My brother and I, we both grew up playing every sport. But when it came down to it, we were pretty good at soccer. However, I knew I wasn’t quite good enough to play over in Europe.. That’s where I wanted to play, but I didn’t have a shot at that. I did some Olympic development stuff. Someone told me to maybe try out for football. We were watching a Notre Dame game, watching the kickers, and I was a freshman going into high school. I wondered if I could do that. At the time we didn’t have a kicker at my high school, (Hoggard HS in Wilmington, N.C.). It was your wide receiver or your best athlete who kicked, So I went out, and the coaches told me to kick, and they were like 'Whoa, we got something here.' So I just kept at it, and as time went on, I went to camps in the summer and I was winning camps, and was getting first place. People were saying, 'Hey you can go to school for free doing this.' I thought that was pretty cool, and anything I can do to help my parents. I kept pursuing it. I quit soccer after freshman year. Then I decided to focus solely on football. It all kinda worked out.
Where did you live when you were at Carolina?
I was at Ehringhaus my freshman year. My sophomore year I actually moved in with a guy name Chase Rice, who a lot of people know for his country music. We lived in Odum Village. It was still considered on campus, so we lived in a little two bedroom-one bath place there. Junior year, we lived in Carrboro in a four-bedroom house, with a few other guys. Our senior year we all wanted to get a big old house. We had a place right off campus. There were seven of us. It kept getting bigger and bigger every year. It was a lot of fun. Five of the guys played in the NFL. Two of them are coaching. Another one is involved in baseball.
What are some of your favorite places in Chapel Hill?
Definitely Top of the Hill. That’s our go to spot. La Res. That was our bar. Pantana Bob’s, that was one of our favorite spots. Whenever we get back, if it’s a nice day, we’re going to Bob’s, because you have the back deck. Top of the Hill. That’s a staple of Chapel Hill. So we go there and hang out.
What has it been like playing in the NFL?
It’s been a really cool experience. You’re learning every step of the way. I’ve just wanted to kick well. Treat people how you want to be treated. Just do your job and try to make kicks. Never burn your bridges. Tampa is where I spent most of my career. It’s definitely near and dear to my heart. The organization and the city, and the fans. I spent six years there. That’s where I blossomed into a kicker. I felt like I made a home there. I’m a big beach guy. The NFL is very stressful and great to be able to go out on the water and paddleboard, or go out on the boat. It’s a great thing.
How do all the NFL kickers get along?
There are only 32 of us. We’re all just good buddies. We’re always out early at the stadiums, checking out the conditions, so you get to meet and interact. I’ve learned a lot from guys like Adam Vinatieri of the Colts. Were all under the same pressure. It’s a cool little group.