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East’s Barnes to Catawba

By Mike London
Salisbury Post
A visible incision reminds East Rowan kicker Kenny Barnes that he basically has one kidney and that he’s not supposed to take unnecessary chances on the football field.
But football plays don’t always follow the script.
Barnes confidently took the field last fall for the Mustangs’ first punt of the season against Salisbury, only to watch the snap sail over his head.
“It was my first punt in a game, and it was also David Fox’s first snap of the year,” Barnes said with a smile. “There was only one thing to do. I ran.”
Barnes isn’t K.P. Parks. He lost 19 yards, but he survived his first scare ó and his first contact. He was officially a football player.
From that inauspicious beginning, an all-county player blossomed. Barnes averaged a respectable 32 yards on 39 punts and his placekicking was strong enough to attract an offer from Catawba. He was 6-for-8 on field goals and converted 35 PATS.
“I knew Coach (Chip) Hester came to watch one one our games, but I didn’t get to kick a field goal until after he’d left,” Barnes said with a laugh.
But Hester contacted him and didn’t have to ask twice. Catawba had everything Barnes was looking for.
“It’s nice, it’s close and it has what I wanted to major in ó pharmacy,” Barnes said.
East head coach Brian Hinson and offensive line coach Gary Bass teach Barnes’ weightlifting classes.
Both starred at Catawba, two more good reasons to stay in Salisbury.
“It’s nice to kind of help out Catawba by sending a kid over there, and it’s nice of them to help out one of our kids,” Hinson said.
Hinson doesn’t pretend to know anything about the technical aspects of kicking, but after he was elevated to the head job at East in December, 2006, he knew enough to know he was staring at a season without a reliable kicking game.
About three months after he was hired, he held auditions. Soccer standouts were the logical place to start, and Barnes was a perennial all-county player who had been kicking soccer balls since he was 5 years old.
Barnes was in one of Hinson’s classes, and followed him out to the field one March afternoon for some Football 101. J. Hylton Tucker, the graduating kicker, demonstrated the basics, and Barnes made his first experimental kicks.
Hinson was cautiously optimistic, as Barnes knocked through a few extra points.
“Then I go out there and Kenny is making four out of five from 40 yards,” Hinson said. “And I’m thinking that this might turn out to be a pretty positive thing.”
After Barnes attended kicking camps, including one at South Carolina, and figured out he was already one of the better booters, his confidence climbed through the roof. Then, medical clearance to play football for the first time, lifted his spirits even more.
Barnes was introduced to kicking footballs just 13 months ago, so he has plenty of upside. The longest field goal ever made by a Catawba player was Tom Sexton’s 53-yarder against Newberry in 1977, but Barnes has the tools to threaten that long-standing mark.
“What sticks out to us is the pop Kenny’s got in his leg,” Hester said. “We’ve got a good kicker in Cory Darnell who can kind of lead Kenny around this fall, and we believe Kenny can become a great one for us. He has the live leg and the work ethic. Now it’s just a matter of developing consistency.”
Barnes doesn’t expect to do any punting at Catawba, but he could enter the competitive mix for field goals, PATs and kickoffs early in his career.
His credentials from his senior season ó he was NPC Kicker of the Year ó are strong.
A week after the punting disaster against Salisbury, he kicked two field goals against North Rowan, including a 39-yard, momentum-changer on the last play of the first half.
He kicked a pressure field goal against West Rowan when that much-hyped game was still tight.
He launched a 52-yarder that broke the school record in the closing seconds of the first half in a victory against North Iredell.
He also made a clutch field goal late against Northwest Cabarrus that kept East alive, and he booted one at Charlotte Catholic in the playoffs to give East an early lead.
“He missed two field goals all year,” Hinson said. “One was from about 55 yards in the cold at West Rowan. On the other one, Kenny is walking off his steps when Shawn (Eagle) gets the snap, and he didn’t have a chance.”
Hinson often based the duration of sprints on the success or failure of Barnes’ practice kicks.That simulated the pressure of game situations pretty well, and Barnes usually responded ó from as far as 55 yards.
Barnes frequently kicked with a weary leg because of double duty with the soccer team, but he’ll have a fresh leg at Catawba.
He’s also surprisingly strong. Hinson said Barnes bench-presses nearly 300 pounds and isn’t going to be embarrassed hanging out with the linebackers in Hayes Field House.
“Kenny’s got a great leg, and as he gets more flexibility, he’s going to get even better,” Hinson said. “He was a steal for us, and he might be one for Catawba too.”

Contact Mike London at 74-797-4259 or mlondon@salisburypost.com.

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