Kicker Alex Barnes ’11 was in the middle of the action during touchdowns for and against Yale last week, a rare feat at his position.Barnes has thus far struggled to fill the void left by All-Ivy kicker and punter Tom Mante ’10 this year, as the special teams unit has allowed three blocked field goals, a blocked punt, and a blocked extra point. Barnes talked to The News about kicking, the special teams struggles, and taking a hit.
Q One of the hardest parts about being a kicker is the mental game. How do you handle that?
A I’m more of a relaxed type of person. Tom [Mante] was a different type of kicker than I was. He was very keen on every technical detail, whereas I feel like the more relaxed you are, the better you’re going to kick. It’s definitely tough. If you miss a field goal you have to stand there for another five minutes before you have another shot to go out on the field. That’s tough but, as the coaches always say, it’s always the next play that counts, so you’re trying to think of that.
Q What makes you keep going despite the rigor of the mental game?
A I don’t know, to be honest. It’s definitely being a part of the team. It’s knowing that I could go out there and I could miss five field goals and then make a game-winner and everybody would forget about the first five. It’s definitely being able to feel like I’m part of the team and being successful. Even on punts, you know, if you down a punt inside the five-yard line everybody gets all fired up and they love you for the next five seconds and then they forget about you again, so it’s definitely fun.
Q These have been a tough few games for the special teams. How are you as a person and you as a unit coping with some of the difficulties you’re facing?
A We’ve faced adversity this year. Last year we didn’t have any blocks and this year we’ve had three field goals and one extra point. But we’re going to fight through it and get it fixed this week. We’re taking a look at personnel changes if we need to and we’re going to get ready for Ivy League play and hopefully we’re going to come through with flying colors.
Q One of the craziest plays of Saturday’s Albany game was a punt in which you dropped the snap, picked it up, punted the ball on the run, and were hit, drawing a fifteen-yard penalty and a Yale first down. What’s going through your head when that ball comes out of your hands?
A So last year, to start off the year, I saw Tom do it. It hit off one of our players’ helmets and Tom had to scramble and I talked to him a little about that and he said that it’s something that just comes naturally, you know. You pick up the ball and you know you have to get it out, so I picked it up and turned around and saw two guys coming down on me, so I just tried to get it out as fast as possible. I ended up taking a hit, you know, got the penalty called, and kept the drive going.
Q You took a hit on the play before too. Is it tough for a punter to brush that off?
A I played safety and wide receiver in high school so it’s not any different than that. I mean, I guess we’re at a different level now but we don’t really practice. We go over adversity plays if the ball bounces on a snap or the ball goes over our head. But, once again, it just comes down to natural feeling. And I didn’t feel good after taking that hit or both of those hits, rather, but you know you fight through it and just keep going.
Q On one of the first punts of the game, Yale was pinned on their own one-yard line and you had to punt from the very back of the endzone. What do you do in a situation like that?
A On Friday during our walkthrough we actually work on that. We take a snap from our one-yard line and work on getting it out extremely quick. You shorten up your steps and take one or two steps rather than a hitch and two steps. You’re definitely rushing yourself, but if you can get it off any yards are better than getting it blocked and returned for a touchdown. So that’s what we did and I’m glad we worked on it during practice.
Q Let’s talk about the fake field goal play at the end of the first half. How do you set up for a play like that and make it look real?
A We actually put that play in on Tuesday of last week. They gave us the look where they drop a guy off from the left side into the middle of the field and all game they hadn’t been giving us that look — they were dropping him from the right side — so we weren’t going to run it. Then we came out and they called a timeout but they had shown us that they were going to drop that guy on the left so Coach Williams said “Hey, let’s run it, it’s there.” So on that play I was actually lead blocking for Forney so I had to shorten up my steps to make sure I got in front of him. Disguising, I guess, acting like I was just taking my normal steps but actually going two steps back rather than three was a little bit acting but no one really pays attention to the kicker’s steps anyways.
Q What was your inspiration in becoming a kicker?
A I always played soccer growing up and switched to playing football my freshman year of high school, but I didn’t start kicking until midway through the season. Our kicker went down and they asked me if I thought I could kick, knowing that I had a soccer background. I gave it a shot and then ended up kicking for varsity the rest of my freshman year and then all through the rest of high school.
Q What was the learning curve like?
A Not too hard. Kicking a soccer ball is pretty much the same as kicking a football, field goal-wise. Punting was definitely a much bigger learning curve. It’s a completely different motion, coming straight up rather than soccer style. But you know, as a soccer player you can pick up on it pretty easily.
Q Is it difficult to handle all the kicking duties — punting, field goals, and kickoffs — and transitioning among the three?
A It’s not difficult. It’s definitely harder warming up because we’ll be on the fifty yard line and I’m warming up for punts and then we’ll score a touchdown and I haven’t really warmed up for kicking field goals. But it isn’t anything that I haven’t been able to do. Tom Mante did it last year and he did a great job with it so hopefully I can do the same.
Q Is it hard filling shoes as big as Tom Mante’s?
A Me and Tom, we got along great when I came here as a freshman. He was a big help for me and he definitely gave me a lot of pointers. I’ve definitely been talking to him a lot as of recent about how he coped with doing all three and if he has any advice for me after doing it for a full year. He’s been very helpful for me and it’s been tough filling his shoes but hopefully I can make a name for myself.
Q The Ivy League schedule kicks into gear against Dartmouth next week. What are you looking forward to?
A To be honest, I hate looking forward, but Harvard obviously. We’ve been 0–3 in my three years here so obviously getting a chance to beat them. And winning an Ivy League championship. I don’t have a ring, I haven’t been a part of a team that’s won yet so hopefully we can get through and go 7–0 in the league.