North Surry Greyhound senior punter Austin Barker finished the 2012-13 football season among the top ten high school punters in North Carolina’s.
Barker averaged 39.9 yards punting per punt, spread over 29 attempts, said Greyhound Head Coach Danny Lyons. He is the only Northwest conference punter to make the top ten, according to North Carolina Preps.
Lyons said of the 29 punts that Barker attempted, seven or eight of them fell inside the 20 yard line, which helps pin the other team deep in their own territory. He also recorded a long punt of 56 yards, according to Greyhounds special teams coach Jeff Stein
The head coach said Barker’s punts have great hang-time, meaning they go high in the air and give the Greyhounds a chance to get in place to cover the punt return before the opposing team fields the ball. the coach said only six punts were returned against Barker this season.
Lyons said Barker’s work ethic, temperament and passion is what it takes to be a successful punter and special teams player. Lyons said punters must have the ability to be self-motivated and work independently and both are qualities that Lyons affirmed Barker has repeatedly shown in his four years of high school football play.
The head coach also credited the work of special teams coach Stein as instrumental in Barker’s success during the 2012-12 season. Lyons spoke about how the assistant coach and Barker worked to hone his craft in practice for special teams play.
Lyons said, “We knew he (Barker) was special as a freshman.”
Stein said it is always a privilege and honor to coach a kid like Barker.
“It makes our work so much easier because of his hard work and dedication.” Stein said Barker practiced by himself on days off and on every single Sunday during the season.
The special teams coach said, “The kid is as motivated as any kid I’ve known all around, and I never had to worry about him buckling under pressure. ” He further described Barker as a goal setter, achiever and one who does not accept failure.
Stein emphasized the importance of players like Barker because he said special teams is a third of play in football.
Barker led when it was his time and acted as a playmaker, he said. The coach said Barker’s punting often gave the other team poor field position.
Stein said, “Sometimes punters don’t get the credit they deserve along with place kickers and field goal kickers but they are game changers.”
Barker said he was personally aware of the responsibility that punters often shoulder as specialist who sometimes go it alone. When a punt goes either good or bad for a team, Barker said he has and is ready to shoulder that responsibility for the game.
Barker said he started kicking in little league football and played soccer when he was young. He later kicked while playing football at Gentry Middle School under Coach Greg Nelson who reinforced his kicking ability, he said.
“Mr. Nelson told me to kick every day and I did,” Barker said. The young punter also said that his mom and dad gave him encouragement from an early age. “I just kept on kicking every day,” he said.
Years later, Barker said that kicking every day has made the difference especially in critical situations.
He also said the pressure of kicking doesn’t bother him. “I know what to do, I just pin them as far back as I can.”
“I like his confidence,” Coach Lyons said of Barker.
Barker said a punter knows when he has made a “very good kick” by the way the ball comes up above his head, a certain feel, and finally, because of an applauding crowd.
“I am happy to do it, I think it is an art to the see ball flying in the air,” Barker said.
Coach Lyons said Barker especially stepped up his senior year at the punter position but said he did well his junior year. Lyons said Barker’s success as a senior punter was critical to the team’s overall success because the Greyhound team had to replace many of the offensive players that graduated the previous year.
“We knew we had an offensive weapon in Austin, but things turned out better than they were supposed to be.” Lyons said. The head coach also characterized having a punter like Barker as having “a luxury.”
The head coach further explained how quickly that luxury becomes a necessity in crunch time situations. He relayed a scenario that happened in the game against South Stokes that Lyons called one of the biggest of the season.
Lyon said, Barkers’ leg and distance became instrumental after the Hound’s football team trailed against the Sauras and he made the decision for Barker to punt and Barker surpassed expectations.
He kicked a 47 yarder and pinned the Saura’s on the one-yard line, Lyon said. The coach said that kick turned the game around because it gave the Houndst field position advantage and totally changed the tempo. The Greyhounds defense then got a three and out, and the team went on to win 23-20.
Barker is also a triathlete. In addition to playing football, he enjoys tennis and swims for the Bears varsity team. He and tennis partner, Brandon Orndorff, won the conference doubles championship during the Greyhound 2012-13 tennis season.
He is currently swimming on the Mount Airy swim team to help keep his leg strong, he said. He said he also likes the individual competition against himself in swimming and remarked on the sports similarity to punting in that aspect.
Barker was also named Runner Up Specialist of the Year along with Mitchell Brown of Mount Airy High School for the 2012-13 season and wants to study mechanical engineering in college, he said.
Barker said he hopes he can be a walk-on at Western Carolina University next fall.