From Burlington County, parents watch as son works to make NFL dreams reality

Larry Barnard of Burlington County is the type of Eagles fan who not only paints his face before attending games of his beloved team, but also colors his mustache metallic green. When his son, Michael, was recently invited to the Eagles mini-camp for rookies, being a fan took on an entirely new meaning.

Both Barnard and his wife Deneyse are their son’s biggest fans. Last year, Barnard gave up the Eagles season tickets he had held for more than two decades to support his son, who has been training full-time to become an NFL kicker since graduating from Farleigh Dickenson University three years ago. He thinks the sacrifice has been well worth it.

“There were some things in life I had to do without,” Barnard said, adding that his son has given up plenty too. “Michael … basically gave up working or any social life, to pursue what he thought he had a shot at.”

Barnard’s passion for the Eagles is as intense as his support for his son’s dreams to play in the NFL, but his love for the Eagles didn’t come until later in life.

“I grew up as a hard core Patriots fan,” the 51-year-old Bedford, Mass. native said. 

Barnard, who moved to New Jersey after being stationed at McGuire Air Force base in the 1980s to work as a pilot, still cheers for the Boston Red Sox during the baseball season.

“Once I became an Eagles fan, I realized that I had to cut ties with the Patriots. I am the most transformed football fan the whole country has ever seen.”

As for his son, the road to the NFL hasn’t been easy. When he was a kid, he excelled at playing soccer and only took up football after a falling out with his soccer coach in high school. As the fall of his senior year at Rancocas Valley Regional High School approached, Barnard decided to give football a shot and approached the coaching staff. When he mentioned that he played soccer, the team decided to try him out as a kicker, a position that Michael wasn’t too keen on playing, according to his mother Deneyse.

“He stood on the 50-yard line and he kicked the ball over the RV gym,” she said. “He said everyone stopped, looked at him. The coach made him kick again.”

Despite Barnard’s talents, the Rancocas Valley Red Devils struggled, going 0-10 during his brief career there. Few colleges were interested in recruiting him. Barnard briefly attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania before transferring to Farleigh Dickenson, whose football team didn’t have a winning record while he was there.

Undaunted, Barnard pressed on, transforming himself into one of the country’s top kicking prospects. Along the way, he has met plenty of NFL scouts, coaches and players and says he has gotten a taste of the NFL life, including the “gum station” at the Eagles camp.

“The gum station was awesome,” he said. “They had every brand you could think of at a Wal-Mart, Target, CVS and Walgreen’s. It was unlimited and restocked every single day.”

Barnard says he knew going into the tryout that his chances of making the team were slim. Soon after, the Eagles informed him that they had no room on their roster. Though disappointed, Barnard said he appreciated the chance to get his foot in the door in the NFL.

Barnard may not have made the cut with the Eagles, but his hard work and talents haven’t gone unnoticed. His father said many teams are in “hot pursuit” of his son, increasing the odds that his NFL dreams may come true.

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