Barth Seeking Perfection

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Head coach Butch Davis has stressed the importance of special teams on numerous occasions since arriving in Chapel Hill nine months ago. Fortunately for the Tar Heels, Connor Barth returns for his senior season as one of the top place-kickers in the nation, having connected on 18 of his last 20 field goal attempts.

"When you come off a 10 for 10 season, your confidence is sky-rocketing," Barth said. "I had that slump during the beginning of my sophomore year, broke out of that at the end of the season, and then finished a great season last year.

"I'm just glad I finished out that strong. Last year just showed how strong my fundamentals are – how good I know I can be. Now I've set such a high bar for myself last year with not missing any that I just want to do the same thing this year."

With practice No. 6 in the books on Wednesday morning, Barth seems to be on his way toward another stellar season.

"I've had an awesome training camp," Barth said. "I think I've missed two field goals the whole camp so far, and both of them have been off the posts. So they're still kind of good hits, but they just might not go in. But I feel good when I make contact with the ball.

"Yesterday, I went 3 for 3 from [the 55-yard line] from the right, middle and left hash. My distance is there – it's always been – but now I'm just working more on the accuracy part of it."

The field goal unit has been firing on all cylinders since spring practice, as the group has formed a strong bond with continuity. Senior Mike Murphy enters his third season as the starting deep snapper, and senior Ryan Baucom has secured a spot as Barth's holder.

"Being able to work in the spring with the guys that I'm working with now makes it a lot easier transition," Barth said. "Now it's just more fine-tuning things for the season."

Barth spent the summer working on his strength and speed, getting his squat up to 355 pounds. He said he may only kick two or three times a week during the offseason, but now that training camp has arrived, he's practicing more consistently. On heavy days, he may kick 60-70 balls, while on light days, he may only kick 20.

"Today, since we have two-a-days, I didn't kick any this morning," Barth said. "I didn't touch a ball with my foot. I did dry runs and steps and stuff like that, but this afternoon we'll do some kickoffs and some field goals. Right now, it's just more or less trying to fine-tune my leg and get it ready for the season."

Various place-kickers have said that they aim at a spot in the stands, or a letter on the scoreboard when lining up their kicks, but Barth doesn't get that technical.

"I just try to visualize [the kick] in my head," Barth said. "I don't really pick a point out, I just visualize the ball going through the uprights… I see it in my head when I'm taking my steps back, and that's usually where it goes every time as long as I take my hand and my foot straight up to the target."

North Carolina's kickoff coverage team ranked 29th nationally last season, allowing only 22.1 yards per return. A new NCAA rule will push kickoffs back five yards to the 30-yard-line, a move intended to increase the number of kickoff returns.

"Now, you're not going to have as many touchbacks," Barth said. "It's more about trying to get more height on it – getting in the 4.2 second range so that you're coverage unit can get down there."

With the Tar Heels likely facing tight ball games this fall, Barth will be counted on to kick his squad to victory, and he fully intends to meet those expectations.

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