Photo: Assistant coach Larry Crowe (back row center)
poses with Golden Eagle special teams players. Front row, from
left, are long snapper Jordan Adams, Tim Donegan and Matt Barker.
Back row, from left, Jason Lennartz, Crowe and Nick
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- It took Matt Barker and his dad 42 hours to drive from their home in Spokane, Wash., to the Tennessee Tech campus in Cookeville. It took him about a week to adapt to the humidity of the South.
So far, he hasn't gotten used to the bugs.
"The bees here are about twice as big as the bees we have back home," Barker says. "I haven't seen a live cockroach yet, but they've warned me about them. We don't see them in Washington."
Barker is one of the newest members of the Tennessee Tech football team, a strong-legged placekicker who spent two seasons at Oregon State before joining the Golden Eagle roster with three seasons of eligibility remaining.
Tech wrapped up its second day of practice in shorts and helmets Tuesday in Tucker Stadium, and the team will add shoulder pads for the next two days. The Golden Eagles are slated for a two-and-a-half hour practice each day beginning at 7:30 a.m. on Overall Field.
The addition of Barker gives the Golden Eagles depth in all of its kicking positions, with two punters (Nick Campbell and Jason Lennartz) and two placekickers (Tim Donegan and Barker).
"We have two punters and we wanted two kickers," explained head coach Watson Brown of his staff's offer to bring Barker to camp as a scholarship addition to the roster. "I just started calling around the country trying to find another kicker."
A few Golden Eagle fans might have already seen Barker in action. During a game in 2008 against No. 1 ranked USC, the freshman kicker made a game-saving tackle as the Beavers upset the Trojans.
Late in the game, OSU had gone on top, 27-21, and Barker kicked off.
"I kicked it down to the two-yard line and we blew the coverage," he said. "We usually had really good kick coverage, but this time the return man broke free on the left side and I thought 'I guess I'm going to have to do something' and I ran him out of bounds.
"We held and the clock ran down and we won," Barker recalls. "The thing I remember most was how loud the stadium ws, and how it shook. It was our first game after the students came back and it was a sellout, and on the first kickoff I felt my legs shaking. I realized it wasn't me, it was the ground vibrating."
Barker's game-saving stop helped the Beavers' win over the top-ranked Trojans rank second that year in the ESPY awards among the biggest college football upsets of the year.
Barker wasn't a football player when he began his high school career, but a standout goalkeepr on the soccer team at Gonzaga Prep High School in Spokane.
"The football coach found me and asked me to try kicking a field goal and to see how far I could kick it," Barker recalls. "I kicked a 48-yard field goal, so he asked me to join the team as a sophomore."
During his first year, he handled only kickoffs, but as a junior he earned all-state honors while making seven of eight field goals. That included a 52-yard game-winner in the state playoffs in "a huge storm."
"That kind of put me on the radar with colleges," Barker says.
His success continued as a senior. He was 5-for-7 on field goals and averaged 65 yards on his kickoffs. Oregon State was one of the schools recruiting him and he wanted to play Pac 10 football, so he joined the Beavers. After two seasons and some coaching changes, Barker decided to leave and went to a combine where he kicked the ball very well.
"Tech saw me at the combine and checked on me, and coach Brown called my dad," Barker recalls. "When a scholarship opened up, things worked out."
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound kicker has great range.
"I think I can attempt anything inside 55 yards," Barker says. "At practice in high school I hit a 70-yard field goal during spring of my junior year. The track team was out there and everybody stopped and watched, and I made another one."
Not that Tech will be attempting any 70-yard field goals, but his strong leg could offer the Golden Eagles a whole new dimension in 2010. That doesn't bother Donegan, who handled all of Tech's kicking chores last year and is now facing a stiff challenge from Barker in fall camp.
"It's good for both of us because it will make us more competitive," Donegan said. "It will make both of us better."