Remembering kicking guru George Barber

March 8, 2016 FieldsColumn

Condolences to the family of George Barber, who passed away last night after becoming ill on a trip to Florida. Barber was involved in Lexington high school football for more than four decades and was best known for coaching kickers, including his son Collin at Lexington Catholic. Here’s a story I wrote about him for the Lexington Herald-Leader in November, 2010.

BY MIKE FIELDS

George Barber

George Barber (Herald-Leader photo)

George Barber gets his kicks coaching kids how to kick a football.

Here’s the kicker: He’s been doing it for 40 years.

Barber has taught dozens of Lexington high school players the finer points of place-kicking and punting.

Despite dealing with serious heart issues the last year, Barber is tutoring Lafayette’s Matt Green, Lexington Catholic’s Jake Pumphrey and Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Matt Puracchio. The trio has made 13 of 19 field goals and 65 of 72 extra points this season.

“I hope they get something out of what I’m trying to teach them, but I probably get more out of it than they do,” Barber said. “It’s fun working with them, and it keeps my mind off my heart condition.

“Plus, I hate to walk, and shagging balls doesn’t seem like work to me.”

Over the years, Barber has worked with dozens of players, several of whom have gone on to kick in college. His prized pupil was his son Collin, a standout at Lexington Catholic who went on to play for Syracuse and the Lexington Horsemen.

George Barber wasn’t a kicker himself. He played high school football and ice hockey in Niagara Falls, N.Y. At Morehead State, he went out for soccer and wound up playing four years for Mohammed Sabie in the late 1960s.

Barber got into coaching football as a volunteer at Tates Creek under Roy Walton in 1970. Among his duties: coach the kickers.

Walton also helped Barber get the head coaching job at Beaumont Junior High, which is where he had his first success with a kicker, a kid named Kreis McGuire.

In the fall of 1971, McGuire booted a 32-yard field goal for Beaumont against Morton at old Heber Field, which was across from the University of Kentucky’s medical center.

“I can see that field goal right now,” McGuire said. “What a thrill. I remember I hugged (Barber) for what seemed like 30 minutes when I came off the field.”

McGuire, who also has fond memories of kicking a 35-yard field goal to give Lafayette a 10-7 victory over Tates Creek in 1974, went on to play at Western Kentucky.

Because most head coaches don’t put a lot of emphasis on kicking, Barber made it a personal quest to learn about the specialty by going to clinics and reading up on the subject.

George Barber early in his coaching career at Bryan Station

George Barber early in his coaching career at Bryan Station

Barber’s coaching career has included stops at Bryan Station and Dunbar, working with Collin at Lexington Catholic and with the Horsemen. After retiring in 2000, he started freelancing as a tutor for kickers all over town.

His reputation is golden.

Last year, when Puracchio was looking for somebody to help him with his kicking, teammate Spencer McGuire, Kreis’ son, suggested Barber.

“Spencer told me his dad was (Barber’s) first student back in the day,” Puracchio said, “and that he was still the best kicking coach around.”

Barber compares kicking to golf. While the mechanics are important, the mental aspect is even more crucial.

“You’ve got to be positive and feel like you can do it,” Barber said. “It’s all about confidence.”

Kreis McGuire said that was the No. 1 lesson Barber taught him.

“He was great at helping you with the fundamentals, but the big thing was, he got in your head and motivated you to believe in yourself.”

Almost 40 years later, Barber is using the same approach.

“The biggest thing he’s taught me is confidence,” Puracchio said. “He stresses that whenever you kick, kick with confidence. He wants you to visualize the ball going through the uprights with a perfect kick every time.”

No kicker is perfect, of course. Failure comes with the territory.

“The life of a kicker,” Puracchio calls it.

Barber has witnessed the anguish. He was at Dunbar in 1996 when Kevin Art missed an extra point and the Bulldogs lost to Nelson County 35-34 in overtime. In the quiet of the Dunbar locker room, Barber tried to console Art.

“I told him that it was just a game and that life goes on, that I loved him and cared for him, and that we wouldn’t have gotten there without him,” Barber said.

“I don’t think a game is ever won or lost on one play, but it does come down to a kick a lot of times.

“For a kicker, that means you’re either sky high or really low. There’s no middle.”

Barber has been preparing kids to face that unique challenge for 40 years, which makes him a kicking guru in the eyes of Puracchio.

“He’s definitely one of the best at what he does,” Puracchio said. “He’s been around kicking so long, it’s second nature to him.

“It’s nice to have a guy like that who just enjoys teaching kids.”

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