Barnes, Special Teams Unit is Like a Well-Oiled Machine
Dec. 22, 2016
By Blake Bolin
RUSTON -- Ask Louisiana Tech kicker Jonathan Barnes about his accomplishments on the field over the past two seasons and you won’t hear the word “I” come out of his mouth.
His success does not come from just lessons learned leading up to this point, but also from No. 43 and No. 53 who will take the field with the redshirt junior Friday afternoon at the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth.
We’ll get to that, though.
A native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Barnes has been Mr. Reliable for Louisiana Tech during the 2016 season. The path to success wasn’t without a few bumps along the way, but it was a journey involving dedication, comradery and a few failures turned lessons.
Entering the 2014 season, a battle was taking place in fall camp between Barnes, a freshman, and then-sophomore kicker Kyle Fischer; a battle for the starting position that would not be settled for the entirety of the season. Each kick, both in-game and in-practice, would have an impact on playing time for the rest of that game or for the following game. Every kick in 2014 meant something and every kick was pressure-packed.
Barnes admits that the pressure got to him. Rather than focusing on each individual kick, he focused on the repercussions that would come if he missed that kick. His lightbulb-moment came at Old Dominion, a 30-27 overtime loss for the Bulldogs, where Barnes missed a 38-yard field goal on Tech’s opening drive.
Barnes would not kick again in that game, but it is what happened following the missed field goal that has helped to propel him to where he stands now.
“Coach Manny Diaz walks down the sidelines and starts standing next to me,” Barnes recalled. “We were watching the game and he says, ‘Just have confidence. Trust your ability to go out there and hit the ball.’ That was it; that was the entire conversation. From that point forward, I knew I just needed to trust what I was doing. I have the physical tools to do it, but I was hindering myself mentally. You have to focus on one kick and not everything else that is going on.”
Perhaps Diaz, a defensive coordinator for Louisiana Tech at the time, saw the talent and potential in the young freshman. Maybe he was just trying to lift a Bulldog who was down. Whatever the reason, the two sentences have left a last impacting on Barnes, even to this day.
“He probably has no idea,” Barnes said laughing. “But it absolutely has [made a difference in my career]. It is crazy, because he just walked down there and spoke a couple of sentences. The light just flipped on and I said to myself, ‘What am I doing? Come on.’ It definitely made a huge difference for me.”
Barnes took it to heart and the results were undeniable.
In 2015, on his was to second-team all-Conference USA honors and being named a Lou Groza Award semifinalist, Barnes was successful on 22-of-25 attempts which included a 50-yard field goal at Joe Aillet Stadium in a win against Louisiana-Lafayette.
In the first 10 games of his collegiate career, leading up to and including Old Dominion, Barnes was a mere 11-of-16 (68 percent). Since that loss at Old Dominion he is 43-of-51 (84 percent). Those results speak for themselves.
A short speech from Diaz was not the only factor leading to an uptick in success.
Darrell Travis, a current senior and deep snapper, and Logan McPherson, also a current senior who holds for Barnes, began working together with Barnes at the beginning of 2015. The trio, who became inseparable both on and off the field, developed a chemistry that correlated with the success seen in Louisiana Tech’s kicking game.
“For the past two seasons, it has been us three,” Barnes said. “It is crazy. I know where the snap is going to be. I know where the hold is going to be. There is trust that we build on, especially off the field. We are great friends off of the field. That contributes to our success on the field. You have to stick together.”
After a successful 2015 campaign that was capped off with a 4-for-4 field goal performance in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl against Arkansas State, the trio of Barnes, McPherson and Travis were set to be one of the best, if not the best, field goal unit in Conference USA in 2016.
“I felt like myself, Darrell and Logan, had our best camp since we have been here. We were clicking on all cylinders,” said Barnes regarding their fall camp entering week one on the road at Arkansas.
Things don’t always go as planned, though, and that was the case when Louisiana Tech opened the 2016 season in Fayetteville, Arkansas, at Razorback Stadium.
Louisiana Tech’s field goal unit saw their first action of the season with just a second remaining in the first half at Arkansas, as head coach Skip Holtz called on them for a 54-yard attempt.
Barnes had the leg but missed it a hair to the right, and the Bulldogs and Razorbacks entered the locker room knotted at 14.
After knocking through a 43-yard field goal on LA Tech’s opening drive in the third quarter and another one from 20 on the following drive, the unit would be called on for their final field of the contest, a 39-yarder in the fourth quarter that would hit the left upright. Louisiana Tech would fall to Arkansas 21-20.
“[After the missed 39-yard field goal], we were standing on the sidelines and I just felt like it was going to come back down to us going out there and executing a kick,” Barnes said about Arkansas. “We wanted to get back on the field and redeem ourselves. That is the worst feeling walking back into the locker room. You just look around and think, ‘Woah, I really contributed to this feeling in here.’ You don’t want to walk back the rest of the season in the locker room with the feeling that, ‘I really screwed it up.’ You are disappointed for a period of time, but then you are hungrier to get back out there and to achieve what you know you can.”
For most football fans, a miss or made field goal is squarely on the shoulders of the kicker. They are the hero or the zero, but the two stages prior to the actual kick, the snap and hold, are equally crucial for a successful field goal.
“When I snap, if the snap is off, that throws off Barnes’ timing,” Travis said. “If the snap is not where it needs to be for Logan, it throws off the entire process. I have gotten to where I can put the laces just right for Logan, so he does not have to worry about spinning it.”
After a successful snap, the holder becomes the next part of the equation for a successful try.
“Some kickers like [the ball] leaned a lot, others not so much and Barnes is right in the middle,” McPherson said. “Darrell is so good at getting the laces perfectly aligned so that I can just catch it, put it down and the laces are straight at the uprights.”
These three teammates have to be in perfect harmony, for each and every kick, if the Bulldogs are going to put three points on the board. Knowing the process makes the trio’s success that much more impressive.
On Sunday after the loss to Arkansas, Barnes, McPherson and Travis went back to the drawing board to make sure something like that would not happen again. Their dedication paid off.
Following the 2-for-4 performance in Arkansas, Barnes and company would go on to make 14 consecutive field goals. A streak that stretched over eight games, the 14 consecutive made field goals would tie for the longest active field goal streak in college football.
Travis, who is coming off of a second team all-Conference USA selection, sees the process as second nature. It isn’t something they have to think about every time they take the field.
“I am 100 percent confident,” Travis said without hesitation. “There is never a doubt in my mind. We have kicked from 50 and from 20, but we don’t really pay attention to the distance. We never look at it as a long field goal, we look at it like, ‘Hey coach, we want to do this. Let us go get it.’ There is never any doubt Barnes is going to make it. The ball will be there for him, he’ll put it through and there won’t be any problems.”
Confidence radiates from the Bulldog who snaps it, the Bulldog who holds it and the Bulldog who sends it through the uprights. They don’t see themselves as three separate pieces though; they are the field goal unit. If one component is missing there is no field goal.
“Every time we go out there I am not thinking, ‘I really hope Jonathan makes this.’” McPherson said. “I just know it is going to be a field goal, there is never a wonder of if it is going to go in or a hope it is going to go in. I know Darrell is going to give me a good snap every time.”
As for the man who was named a Lou Groza semifinalist for a second time and is coming off back-to-back all-conference selection?
“Whenever I have the chance, I do everything I can to remind people that it is not just me kicking,” Barnes said. “My awards come because of them. It is a unit. It is us. I could not do it without them.”
If you listen to Barnes speak on his deluge of success and achievement, you will not hear the word “I” used and if Louisiana Tech lines up for a field goal against the Midshipmen Friday afternoon, it will not be Barnes on the attempt; it will be the Louisiana Tech field goal unit.
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