With Keller out, Barneson to step in as kicker
FARGO — Certainly not lost in North Dakota State’s run to three straight FCS Division I national football championships was the performance of kicker Adam Keller. When it came to his leg, the Bison were in good hands.
Keller set a school record for field goals made as a sophomore in 2012 with 18 and tied a single-game mark with four against Northern Iowa. Last year, although not called on as often, he hit 9 of 12 field goals and made 76 of 78 point-after kicks.
His field goals in the second round against Furman, the quarterfinals against Coastal Carolina and the semifinals against New Hampshire all gave the Bison a lead they would not relinquish. He’s also nowhere to be seen in Bison spring football practice after undergoing surgery to his hip.
That means the job is Tom Barneson’s, at least for now. And so far, the former walk-on from Eau Claire, Wis., has done the job.
“Spring ball is about working on my mechanics and making sure my leg is swinging right,” he said.
Barneson is also showing more pop in his kicks. In a controlled scrimmage last Saturday, he hit six straight field goals, with the last one clearing the crossbar with room to spare from 53 yards at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. Whereas the consistency mark was 35 yards and in when he was a redshirt freshman, he said he’s increased that to 45 yards and in.
“He has great explosiveness in his leg,” said NDSU head coach Chris Klieman. “His big thing is consistency because he does have a great leg.”
NDSU fans who attend the annual spring game on Saturday will get a good look at Barneson. As the only healthy kicker, he’ll be doing the chores for both teams.
“The spring game is going to be fun,” Barneson said. “I’d love to see where I’m at with real action and real game play.”
Keller, while watching the scrimmage from the sideline on Saturday, said he feels good and will be ready to go. Klieman said he expects the senior to begin kicking in June sometime, which would actually be ahead of schedule from the last couple of years.
“He told me in the past he hasn’t started kicking until mid-July because he’s had this issue with his hip for so long,” Klieman said. “Maybe it will be a benefit for him to get out there a little bit early.”
The last issue with a hip with an NDSU starter was linebacker Brandon Jemison, who never did return to full health a couple of years ago. Being a kicker and playing linebacker are two different physical jobs, but nonetheless, Klieman said Barneson is capable of being the starter should Keller’s rehabilitation not go as expected.
Barneson hit 7 of 9 field goals and 50 of 51 extra points his senior year at Eau Claire Memorial High School and was an honorable mention all-state selection. He said his improvement at NDSU has not been so much the distance of his field goals but with the height of his kicks.
“Adam is recuperating right now,” he said, “but if they need me, I’ll be ready to fill that spot. I had a few rough patches getting started, but it’s starting to pick up, and hopefully that will continue over the summer.”