- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 28, 2002

Brooks Barnard plans to be a television meteorologist when his football career is over. That may be a while for the two-time All-ACC selection, who is arguably the best punter in college football. The resident of Arnold, Md., can accurately predict perfect weather conditions in the Georgia Dome when Maryland meets Tennessee in the Peach Bowl on New Year's Eve.

Senior Barnard has battled through rain and cold this season to finish 15th in the nation with a 42.7-yard average. But he feels that figure is skewed compared to those of punters who regularly play in domes and under friendlier conditions in places like Florida or California. And now he plans to exploit the ideal conditions himself as he plays indoors for the first time.

"It's a level playing field this time," Barnard said. "I heard the ball flies in the dome. I'm ready to shine in this one."

Barnard is averaging 43.6 yards for his career and has been an invaluable weapon by giving the Terrapins a major advantage in field position. He has drawn NFL scouts to Maryland practices, and although few punters are drafted, he could be this April. ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. rates him as the top senior punter.

It is a skill the eclectic Barnard has honed between snacks in practice. The 6-foot-2, 188-pounder usually shows up at practice with a helmet full of food, including cheeseburgers from McDonald's. He supplements that with candy bars and other junk food.

"Whatever I get my hands on. I get hungry standing there," Barnard said. "I'm usually getting a double cheeseburger on my way out to practice. I'm a real big fan of the double cheeseburger. It doesn't show. I can never gain weight. I wish I could."

Barnard stored his goodies in a shed in the middle of the practice fields, and would sneak over for a treat several times during workouts. Barnard and kicker Nick Novak are usually off on their own practicing while the rest of the team goes through drills, and Barnard is often munching while teammates are sweating.

"I bet if the head man found out that out, he'd probably run me until I lost it," Barnard said of coach Ralph Friedgen. "[Center] Todd Wike always tells me he hates me. I asked him, 'Why do you hate me?' He said, 'Because you get to do whatever you want.' I get away with a lot of stuff in that matter of food."

The menu changes on game day. It has become customary for his father, John, to bring him a sandwich "with mayonnaise and stuffed with roast beef" to the sideline before games. The punter stores the mid-game meal in the kicker's warmup net.

"Whenever I'm kicking, it's always bouncing out of the net," said Novak, the All-ACC kicker who credits Barnard, the holder on field goals, for much of his success.

Barnard, who also kicks off, has other goals besides punting well in the Peach Bowl. He wants to prove he's more than a punter for the first time.

"I want to kick off and hit somebody," said Barnard, a transfer from Oklahoma who earned the starting job as a redshirt freshman. "I'm unblocked, so it's my dream. I don't care if it's my own man. Usually, I'm wearing soccer cleats instead of football cleats, and I see somebody coming and time their cut, and then I wipe out looking like a typical punter. There should be no excuse this time. I will be in turf shoes."

But he will happily settle for less if his final wish comes true. Barnard's teams have never won the final game of the season at either Anne Arundel County's Broadneck High School or Maryland. Over the last three seasons, the Terrapins went into the offseason with losses to Virginia, Georgia Tech and then Florida in last January's Orange Bowl.

The last time Barnard finished the season with a win was when he played in weight class football in a recreation league as an eighth grader in 1993.

"The last two years have been great," he said. "We have won 20 games. I want to win 21. I have had a great career. I would like to leave knowing I helped this team win, I had a big role, and we won the last game. That's how I envision ending my career."

Note Offensive tackle Matt Crawford did not practice due to a sprained left shoulder and is considered quesionable for the game. The shoulder was first injured in the regular-season finale Nov.30 and was aggravated Thursday in practice. The Terps will practice for a second day at Georgia Tech this morning.

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