Only about 6.5 percent of high school football players go on to play in the NCAA, and far fewer go on to play major college football in the SEC.
Cartersville’s own Collin Barber is one of those select few.
The former Cane wrapped up his career as the University of Georgia’s punter this year and is thankful to have the opportunity to have played for the Bulldogs.
“I’m just very grateful and blessed to play four years and get a free education,” Barber reflected on his career. “All in all, at the end of the day, I’m very grateful for my coaches like [former head coach Mark] Richt and [assistant coach John] Lilly and everybody giving me a chance to play at Georgia. I’m really grateful for the fans.”
Barber is now turning his focus to earning his degree.
“I’m supposed to graduate in either the summer or the fall, depending on what I want to do because, when I committed to Georgia, coach Richt gave me a five-year scholarship. So I have an extra year,” Barber said. “I can either graduate and go to graduate school, or I can maybe minor in a few other things and maybe graduate before my year’s up. So I have to talk to my mom and everybody, and see what’s the best route and see what I want to do. But right now, I’m just going to school and taking as many classes as I can because you have to take advantage of the education.”
Barber had his ups and downs while at Georgia, including bouts with injuries, a few blocked punts, a change in technique his senior year that took him away from his comfort zone and often being in competition for the starting role. However, he also had many highlights, including setting the school record for the highest net punting average in a season at 42.6 during his sophomore season. In addition, he was the recipient of the team’s Newcomer of the Year Award as a freshman. He also successfully executed an onside kick and a fake punt run, and had big games against then-ranked No. 6 South Carolina and No. 8 Clemson as a sophomore. His junior year, he put three punts inside the 20 against No. 16 Clemson, and had a long punt of 60 yards that game, which was the second-longest of his career to a 61-yarder as a sophomore.
Barber had plenty of great punts for the Bulldogs in big SEC games with high stakes. However, he will remember his career for what he was able to accomplish off the field while playing for Georgia.
“I feel I have some accolades I can look back on and say I hold the highest net average for a season. But honestly, I mean, sports are great, but I wouldn’t say my biggest accomplishment is having however many inside the 20 or setting a record,” Barber said. “I would say it’s getting a good education and to graduate, and trying to have a positive impact on kids’ lives. To actually be in a spot where little kids look up to you and admire you, that’s more of an accomplishment to me than setting a school record.”
Barber was a preseason third team all-SEC selection entering his junior season, but an injury slowed him down his junior year and a change to rugby-style punting was an adjustment as a senior.
“My senior year, it probably didn’t go as I wish it would have with the rugby kick the coaches tried to put in and changing up my stance back behind the long snapper,” he said. “Sometimes when I think back on it, I had a few things here and there I wish I would have done differently. For example, my junior year, when I had the herniated disk after the South Carolina game, I really wish I would have tried to redshirt because my junior year was probably the worst year I had at the University of Georgia. So I wish I would have redshirted and got my back better because, every time I tried to punt, I was in so much pain. I could barely do it.”
Along with the change to rugby-style punting, Barber’s role changed his senior year. He became an “inside-20” specialist toward the end of the season, putting 14 punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, including pinning Georgia Tech at its 2- and 4-yard line during the last regular season game of his career.
“Once the whole rugby kick thing kind of messed me up and all that, and Brice [Ramsey] took over, they told me, ‘You’re going to do the sky kicks and whatnot,’” Barber said of his prowess pinning the opponent’s offense deep in its own territory. “Even though I was kind of salty how everything played out my senior year, I really just wanted to help the team win and do whatever I could do to help my team. So I worked with my kicking coach, coach Mark Nolan, a lot on punting and kicking and pinning them inside the 20.”
Barber also kicked off 11 times his senior year, six of which were touchbacks, and averaged 42 yards per punt on 10 attempts against eventual national champion Alabama. In the TaxSlayer Bowl, Barber attempted a 48-yard field goal, his second field goal attempt of his career with the first being a Cartersville school record 54-yard field goal in 2010.
“It’s something else,” Barber said of his field goal attempt in the bowl game. “I’ve only kicked two field goals my whole life, one in high school, the 54-yarder that I made, and that was my second one in the bowl game, the 48-yarder. I look back and I think it’s always going to be in my mind that I should have made it. I thought I hit it pretty well. I didn’t hit it as good as I could have, but you make some and you miss some. That was one of the ones I missed.”
The bowl game against Penn State, a 24-17 win for the Bulldogs, was the only game of Barber’s career without former head coach Mark Richt.
“I was real upset, sad to see coach Richt go,” Barber said. “A lot of people say coach Richt doesn’t have enough fire, or whatnot, to lead a team to a national championship. I think coach Richt had all of that and more. ... Coach Richt was, honestly, the greatest Christian man that I could ever imagine playing for — and just everything he did outside of football from praying for us, leading us, talking about God and how he’s our savior, and how football can end your next play, but His love is eternal and everlasting. It was sad to see him go, such a great man leave the program. He meant a lot to me.”
While Barber’s career at Georgia may have come to an end, the former all-state Cane and top punter recruit is looking to continue his football career.
“I’ve met the new coaching staff and I still hang around, mainly just to work out and get treatment when I need to. I’m training right now for a combine in February over in San Diego, California,” Barber said. “I’m going to go out there and do all three phases of kicking — punting, kickoffs and kick field goals — because I kicked off a little bit this year at the beginning and one at the end. I’ve always been able to kick, but I didn’t really get a chance here at Georgia. So I’ve been working hard on that and just been busting my tail to become the best I can be come Feb. 6 and 7. Hopefully, it works out.”