From the very first day of 2013 Aggie spring football practices, there was an eye-catching turn of events in the middle of New Mexico State's defense.
A new middle linebacker running with the first-team, No. 48 on his jersey. A look at the roster had him listed as Clint Barnard, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound redshirt sophomore. His hometown: Melrose, NM, located in the eastern part of the state, 20 miles west of Clovis. It's home of the Buffaloes, a high school program that plays eight-man football, competing against the likes of Carrizozo, Gateway Christian, Tatum and Floyd.
Barnard, who was on NMSU's scout team a season ago, has looked good this spring, and said he expects to receive a scholarship this fall.
Following a recent practice, we sat down and talked to him about his journey to NMSU, and his transition from small-town New Mexico high school football to the Division-I gridiron:
Sun-News: What position did you play in high school?
Clint Barnard: "Being an (eight-man) school we played both ways. So I played quarterback and linebacker."
SN: You were part of some successful teams?
CB: "My junior and senior year, we were 13-0 both seasons. We had a 26-game (winning) streak my junior and senior years with two state championships. I was also the New Mexico Player of the Year for my division two years running."
SN: What were your stats in high school?
CB: "My junior year, I don't know my defensive stats. Offensive stats I know I threw for over 3,000 yards, had over 20 touchdowns on the ground and over 20 in the air. Actually, my senior year, the rushing went up and the passing went down."
SN: And you come from an athletic family?
CB: "I've got two younger sisters, one is 18 right now, she was a senior, and one is 16. They were on the (Melrose) state championship basketball team in 2012. They got to the state championship game again this year, and lost. .... Apparently, my little brother who's an eighth grader, he dunked it. He's going to be the basketball player I think."
SN: Talk about your journey. How did you get to NMSU?
CB: "When I was in high school, being from a small school, I wasn't recruited very heavily by any D-I schools. I had several D-II schools: West Texas; Eastern, New Mexico; New Mexico Highlands; Western New Mexico. All the local D-II schools, they were recruiting me. I ended up accepting a scholarship to go to New Mexico Highlands, actually as a quarterback. My first year there, I was redshirted. I traveled with the team, but I never played .... They moved me to linebacker. . I played all three linebacker positions there. I started, I think seven games. Had 50-something tackles, five or six sacks . Our quarterbacks ended up getting hurt, and I had to play on offense as a quarterback for the last two, three games of the season. Then I got moved from linebacker to that. After that, I just really had a hard decision to make. I really felt like I wasn't satisfied with where I was. I wanted a better academic curriculum (Barnard's a biology major and a minor in biochemistry). That's when I kind of poked around to see if anybody was welcoming to let someone like me in. I knew if I went to D-I, I'd have to sit out a year. The NCAA rules from the D-II to a D-I (transfer), you usually have to sit out. But I always wanted to be a Division-I player . I wanted to prove to myself and to others that I could do it. I felt like I had accomplished that. When I came here and I talked to (recruiting coordinator R. Todd Littlejohn) .... He got me on the preferred walk-ons list. Go to camp last year, I went all through camp, all through the season last year. I just worked hard, I did everything right. That's the position I'm in now for the spring."
SN: If you go to a Las Cruces, Oñate or Mayfield, you're going to be known. Obviously that's not really the case playing eight-man. How did that affect your recruiting?
CB: "Not many people or that many coaches pay attention to eight-man games. If (they) do, you have to be a complete standout. Which I thought, if anybody could be a standout, I would have been the one. UNM, they had a coach my senior year come talk to me. I was on their list, but they never offered .... Other than that, I don't think there was any Division I that even took the look or called my coach. The thing about that, my coach, he never really had dealt with people that had college potential. He didn't have the contacts for coaches, or D-I coaches. He had several D-II coaches to contacts, but as far as higher up .... he'd never done that before. He's not as connected as the coaches would be for the big schools. . Even though you have all these awards and statistics and stuff you have, it doesn't do you any good if you never get your name out there. It's more publicizing yourself than anything."
SN: Coming from a small school and being overlooked, is that motivation for yourself personally?
CB: "I've always been that type of person that kind of plays with a chip on my shoulder, with something to prove. Everything I've had, I've earned. I haven't ever been given anything. When I first came out here, I wanted to prove to myself, for one, that I could do it. And, two, to the coaches that I could do it. I'm still doing it right now. Still in the process."
SN: Do you want to prove small-school players can play college football?
CB: "I've thought about that quite a bit. I have my two roommates I graduated with in high school. They tell me all the time, they would love to be in my shoes. They would love to have the physical ability to do what I do. A lot of times, those small-town (kids), they have dreams just like any other kid. How many of those small-town kids get to live their dream? Get to do the things that bigger-city kids get to do? Not many. When someone does get the chance, does have the ability, it just seems like a shame to waste it. I keep that in mind. I want to be able to go back to there, if there's that kid that's in the sixth grade that really wants something that's his dream, say 'hey, go after it. You can prove it. You can do it.'"
SN: At Melrose, what't the typical opposing offense you're seeing? From a pass standpoint and run standpoint?
CB: "The coverages, they're completely different. But it's still football. You still have your gap as far as the run game goes. You know where there's A, B or C (gap). That's all the same .... The pass coverage and the concepts of the pass defense are the most dynamic and difficult for me to understand. We played man most of the time (at Melrose) - you have to in eight man. . I did that at Highlands. That's where I got my experience, being able to understand more about that. That was my first, real 11-man pass coverage and really understanding it. That helped me when I got here. I wasn't completely in the dark. . I have the size. The height, the build. Just have to put on a little bit more weight. I have the speed."
SN: We hear all the time, high school to Division-I football, speed and size is a big adjustment. How about from your standpoint?
CB: "When I was in high school, the average offensive lineman I was going against was smaller than me. Or just a little bit bigger than me. And definitely not as fast. To be honest with you, in high school I didn't need any technique. I was just that much more stronger, faster than anyone else. But when you get to these monsters, 300-pound guys that can move .. You've got to learn technique. You have to be very technical about everything you do."
SN: What's the one thing in particular you have to get better at? Run stopping, pass coverage, adding additional weight?
CB: "A little extra weight, I think. The strength and conditioning coaches here want me to get up to 240, and I'm at, like, 234. It's not a whole big weight gain. But that's going to help me . the little extra pounds can help when I get pushed down by 300-plus linemen from Texas. The toughness, I've never had a problem with. The whole concepts of the defense I need to get better at, as far as the pass coverage. A lot of the pass coverage, understanding pass coverage and the run game. Understanding where I need to fit at a particular call, at a particular play. Just getting used to that so I don't have to think all that much, I just react."
SN: What's the one reason you've made it this far?
CB: "My work ethic. I got it from my family. .... My great granddad, he was just a ranch foreman . He taught my granddad his work ethic, my dad his work ethic. We have a place down there by (Melrose) that we own now. I've worked there over my summers most of the time. It really instilled in me a great work ethic. It comes along with it, you've got a little bit of stuborness and a little bit of not wanting to take no for an answer. But sometimes I think you need that. Especially in this game. You need that type of attitude. That's probably the one thing that's really helped me along. And not accepting failure."
SN: You're running with the ones right now. I take it you don't intend to leave your spot on the depth chart?
CB: "No. I do not."
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