Union kicker prefers to walk on at California

Paul Valencia: Commentary

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter



He is a kicker. He is a punter.

Which means he is the last one picked.

Well, maybe not always, but the reality is that most major college football programs do not throw their scholarship money at specialists. At least at the beginning.

Yet Jed Barnett is a special specialist, one of the best in the nation. So indeed he was offered a couple of full scholarships from Division I college football.

Still, he is not taking the free ride.

Not yet, anyway.

Barnett, a senior from Union, has accepted California’s offer for what is called a preferred walk-on to the program. Coaches there have told Barnett that if he earns a starting spot this summer as the team’s kickoff specialist, he could earn a scholarship as early as this summer. Or next December at the latest.

“I’m definitely confident that I’ll be signing a scholarship sooner rather than later,” said Barnett, who plans on heading to Berkeley in late June.

Sure, there is risk involved. Barnett said no thanks to offers from Louisiana Tech and Idaho State. There were several smaller schools that made offers, too.

Barnett, though, had two goals in mind a few years back when he decided to concentrate his athletic abilities only on kicking a football: To get a quality education and play in a big conference. Schooling and a football power program.

“I knew that football wasn’t a forever thing, and I knew I needed the best education,” Barnett said. “I just wanted to get a top-notch education. That’s something I’ve always pursued.”

Barnett carries a 3.6 grade point average while taking advanced classes at Union.

Then there is the program. Louisiana Tech and Idaho State might be fine campuses, but they are not in the Pac-10

“It was kind of like a dream come true. It’s something I’ve been pushing myself to do,” Barnett said. “I never wanted to settle for anything less. The Pac-10, the SEC, that’s the top-notch college football. I’m anxious to get down there. I’m confident in myself, and I’m excited to play big-time college football.”

And not all of those major programs use their money on kickers, at least not until those coaches see what they are paying for in person and on campus.

“A lot of colleges are nervous bringing in kickers,” Barnett said. “It’s hard to tell how they are going to do.”

Barnett excelled at the Chris Sailer national kicking event earlier this year in Las Vegas, winning in a couple of different kicking categories against a field of the best high school kickers in the nation. He is listed No. 3 in Sailer’s Top 12 rankings.

Barnett also is a punter, and he expects to be called on to use all of his talents while playing for the Golden Bears.

This fall, Barnett hopes to become the team’s kickoff specialist, while being a back-up to the incumbent field goal kicker. He also expects to be a back-up to the punter.

For now, though, the focus is on kick-offs. In the fall, Barnett had 53 touchbacks for Union.

But that is kicking off from the 40-yard line. In college, kickers tee it up from the 30-yard line. Yet another reason many college coaches hold off on offering full rides.

“I’ve been putting them inside the 5 from the 30,” Barnett said. “I’m going to keep working until I’m putting them in the end zone. It takes some getting used to.”

Plus, in college, returners can take the ball out of the end zone. In high school, once the ball goes into the end zone, it is an automatic touchback. So Barnett is not just trying for distance, he wants accuracy.

“I’m working on placement, kicking to the corners,” he said.

Barnett did not get to sign a letter of intent or celebrate with other football players in the region on signing day.

That’s just the life of a kicker.

But in the end, if Barnett one day is kicking field goals for the Cal Bears, he will know the waiting — and the risk — will have been worth it.

Even if he is not a scholarship athlete right now, he is heading to a Pac-10 program. He must be doing something right.

Paul Valencia covers high school sports for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4557 or e-mail at paul.valenciacolumbian.com