football Edit

Kicking coach lauds PSU signees Barbir and Gillikin

Before they become teammates under James Franklin on Penn State's special teams this summer, Alex Barbir and Blake Gillikin will have already worked together under the same coach.

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Barbir converted six of his eight field goal attempts as a senior, including a long of 56 yards.


Barbir and Gillikin, both Georgia natives, train with an instructional group called One On One Kicking. Hosting satellite camps along the East Coast and across the Southeast, One On One Kicking assists with professional, college and select high and middle school punters and kickers. The coaching staff is comprised of former All-Americans and NFL specialists. Barbir and Gillikin, who primarily worked out in the Atlanta Division, are the latest to sign Division I scholarship offers, and founder Mike McCabe believes that in Barbir and Gillikin, Penn State has “the best kicking core recruiting class that’s out there.”

While McCabe works most closely with the professional and collegiate trainees, the coaches underneath him preach a basic philosophy when it comes to training at all levels.

Never kick with the wind at your back. Make it as difficult as possible during preparation, the reasoning goes, so when it’s game time, the real thing seems a little easier. “We’re always training into the wind with kickoffs and field goals,” says McCabe, “because my grandmother can kick with it.”

The method has helped with the development of NCAA All-Americans, winners of the Ray Guy and Lou Groza awards and more than a dozen NFL kickers. It's website also reports that 98 percent of its high school trainees sign scholarships, so it appears to be working for Barbir and Gillikin, too, who signed with Penn State in February and were considered three-star recruits by Rivals.com.

A student-athlete at South Forsyth High in Cumming, Ga., Barbir converted six of his eight field goal attempts as a senior, including a long of 56 yards, and he’s one of McCabe’s favorite specialists in the Class of 2016

“He’s got great height [on his field goal kicks] and he’s one who doesn’t try to kill the ball,” McCabe said about Barbir, one of his five-star kickers. “If you try to kill it, that’s going to slow your leg speed down, and you’re going to fall short.”

With field goals it’s his finesse and consistency inside the 40-yard line that sets Barbir apart. But with kickoffs, the area in which he might be most college-ready, Barbir does anything but take it easy.

“On kickoffs he’s a monster, and on field goals he’s extremely accurate,” McCabe said. “He’s one, if you push one or pull it, he knows what he did and goes right back in and puts it right through. Now, that’s a guy you want.”

In his junior and senior seasons, Barbir put 89 percent of his kickoffs into the end zone. Measuring in at 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds, Barbir also previously played cornerback, linebacker and running back, and he’s known for his ability to make tackles on the kickoff.

“If I don’t hit the ball through the end zone, I’m going to make sure I’m the one making that tackle,” said Barbir, who chose Penn State over Illinois, Rutgers and Louisville. “I’ve never let anyone get past me my entire career of football on kickoffs.”

Barbir reportedly bench presses 315 pounds, and McCabe says he certainly “would not want to get hit by him.” Based on his performance at some of McCabe’s camps, however, Barbir shouldn’t have to often worry about the ball being returned. McCabe said he “probably has the best kickoff leg in the country” for the Class of 2016.

That, too, is a technique that Barbir has polished while working with One On One Kicking in the Year-Round Training program. Reminiscent of his approach to field goals, in which they kick into the wind in order to increase the degree of difficulty, McCabe forces his pupils to start their kickoffs 5 yards deeper than normal.

“He just has great hang time and great distance,” McCabe said. “He’s hitting from 4.0 to 4.3 [seconds] on kickoffs and that’s amazing for that age, but he’s putting it deep from the 35, [because] when we train them, we train them from the 30.”

A similar mindset is used with his punters. In addition to facing into the wind, the coaching staff emphasizes that all punts land within 4 yards of the sideline to limit the width of range for his coverage unit.

"You can see how in the NFL that changed everything," McCabe said. "Everybody is doing it now. After [St. Louis Rams' punter Johnny] Hekker had that All-Pro year. How did he do that 44.2-yard average [in 2013]? Well, we're teaching our high school kids the same thing."

Gillikin, who chose PSU over offers from Georgia, Kentucky, Northwestern and Vanderbilt, works on that technique, among many others, with One On One Kicking director Dawson Zimmerman.

Zimmerman was a four-year starter at Clemson, earning All-America honors before a brief stint with the Atlanta Falcons. He currently works closely with punters at One On One Kicking and Gillikin is one of them.


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Gillikin's consistency at punter stands out to McCabe. "It impresses me," he said. (@BlakeGillikin/Twitter)


"He trained Blake, and we also trained Drue Chrisman, who is going to Ohio State," McCabe said. "If you want to compare the two together, they're both phenomenal. I mean, for their age, their consistency – it impresses me. We deal with a lot of NFL players, that I train – Ryan Allen [of the New England Patriots], Johnny Hekker and many others – you can see that continuous spark of [Gillikin and Chrisman] becoming that."

A senior at Westminster High in Smyrna, Ga., Gillikin measures in 6-2, 182 pounds, and McCabe says, too, that the larger Gillikin "hits like a truck." Punting, of course, is his stronger suit, as he averaged close to 42 yards per attempt.

Due to the consistency he's shown, McCabe believes that Gillikin, who is also considered one of his five-stars, can continue similar results at PSU. Even after Gillikin and Barbir head north to enroll, they'll have the opportunity to continue their established ties to One On One Kicking.

While personal coaches aren't allowed on campus, Gillikin and Barbir can still train with One On One in the off-season. They can also call upon them for virtual consulting throughout the season.

"The kids can send us film from practice on their cell phones and we go over film constantly," McCabe said, "so we're always there to help them whenever they need it."

Because the ultimate goal for all of his high school kickers who are skilled enough to earn Division I scholarships is to not only win the starting job, but to reach for even greater accomplishments.

Adds McCabe, "We motivate them to, Let's go for that Freshman All-America honor and keep going from there."