- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 29, 2000

Washington Redskins coach Norv Turner was speaking during a recent team meeting when he said something that caught the ear of punter Tommy Barnhardt.
Turner was talking about the value of working hard. If you're not, Turner said, the guy next to you is. Barnhardt recalled Turner's words yesterday because he's been living them as long as he can remember.
"I've seen guys come into this league, and they're not as skilled as some of the most talented guys, but they're hard workers," Barnhardt said. "That's one motto I've always had I'll never be out-worked."
Barnhardt's long-standing affinity for exertion helped win him the Redskins' punting duties this preseason. Barnhardt, 37, increased his value by dedicating himself for the past 14 years and learning the nuances of both punting and the game.
The 15th-year veteran was chosen as the Redskins' punter and holder after a summer-long challenge from Rodney Williams, a powerful but erratic 23-year-old. Washington, with its $100 million payroll, simply couldn't rely on unproven players.
Despite winning the competition, Barnhardt would prefer not to discuss it. The Salisbury, N.C., native is friendly, speaking with an easygoing drawl, but he pauses and stiffens when asked about Williams and the battle.
"All I can control was going out and kicking my game," Barnhardt said. "Whether it was good enough or not, I didn't know. But that was a shot I was going to take. I was going to give you everything I've got, do everything you ask, and if it's good enough, fine; if not, fine."
Barnhardt, it seems, has been around too long to quibble with hypotheticals. Similarly, he refused to speculate whether he would have retired if he had been cut or whether he'll retire if the Redskins reach the Super Bowl.
"I can't think about [more than] one thing at a time," Barnhardt said. "I just take it one day at a time."
Barnhardt appeared like he might have to consider alternatives last week, when back spasms between his shoulder blades forced him to miss two days of practice before Friday's preseason finale against Pittsburgh. Yesterday Barnhardt said the spasms were simply the result of an uncomfortable bed during training camp.
"It has nothing to do with age or productivity," Barnhardt said.
Age and productivity, of course, being two things Barnhardt knows intimately. He has punted in 170 games, 811 times, for five NFL teams. His stint in Washington is his second, following a four-game, 15-punt effort in 1988.
Barnhardt doesn't kick with spectacular distance, but he gets the ball off quickly and with good placement. His 39.7-yard gross average for New Orleans last season was his lowest since 1989, but he also had a career-high 45-yard average for Tampa Bay in 1997.
"As long as we get the ball out 42 to 45 yards with some hang time, we can be functional," special teams coach LeCharls McDaniel said.
Barnhardt, for his part, believes his leg strength has remained fairly consistent over time, saying several practice punts last week had hang times of five seconds or more. He attributes his longevity to his diet and offseason workout regimen.
"I'm a firm believer in, if you train and take care of yourself, [that your skills] are not going to diminish that much," Barnhardt said. "But you have to work at it and stay on top of everything."
Barnhardt accepts the work because he finds it interesting. He talks about how each special teams play in the NFL receives as much consideration as each snap. He discusses statistics, saying that only 11 percent of drives that start inside the 20 end in points. And he expounds on talents like forcing a fair catch on a punt from the end zone.
"Some other people may not think that's a great play," Barnhardt said. "But to me that's a huge play. That's the trademark of my career in the NFL, taking pride in those types of situations."
Barnhardt, when pressed, also admits to taking pride in having won this summer's competition. It's just that he would rather not dwell on it if only because the tactic has worked so well for so long.
"It's exciting to be out here," Barnhardt said. "And I feel like I've worked for 14 years, 15 years to put myself in a position where I can have this opportunity. Yeah, it gives a lot of satisfaction, but there's still a lot of work to be done."

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