Q&A with former North Carolina punter Tommy Barnhardt
CHARLOTTE — Tommy Barnhardt played football at North Carolina from 1983 to 1985. After being drafted in 1986, the punter appeared in 186 games for five NFL teams — including a one-year stop in the Carolinas, where he played for the Panthers in their inaugural 1995 season. On Wednesday, sports editor Chapel Fowler caught up with Barnhardt, who gave his take on this year's football team, the academic-athletic scandal and more.
The Daily Tar Heel: What was your favorite memory while playing at UNC?
Tommy Barnhardt: Probably the Florida State game in 1985. We had a lot of challenges with their punt-return team — Deion (Sanders) was the No. 1 punt returner in the nation as a freshman. That was a big game. We knew it was going to be a test for us, because they were in the top five in the country. We had to adjust a lot of protection and get the ball off quicker. That was the best game of my career. He got five return yards on eight punts. So it was really a good game for the punt team.
DTH: How do you think the football team will do this year?
TB: I think they’re going to do well. I like coach (Larry) Fedora. I like his creativity on offense. Scoring always makes the game fun and exciting. But, at the same time, we’ve got to be able to stop somebody. I think if he gets that honed up, we can be right there in the top 10.
DTH: Do you think this current stretch is one of the best eras in UNC football history?
TB: We’re starting to get some four- and five-star athletes to come in. I think (Fedora) runs a quality system. He’s an integrity guy with great character, and he’s a creator on offense. He’s a genius with scoring points. If we can keep that up and be able to stop somebody at the same time, I think it’ll be one of the best eras.
DTH: What do you think of North Carolina’s current punting situation? Last year, Tom Sheldon and the coverage team limited opponents to just two total yards on nine returns.
TB: They’re doing a different punting style than what we did — kick the ball on a roll and the return guy doesn’t really have a chance to pick it up. It’s really, to me, a misleading stat. It’s not really the way you play that position. But they found out that’s how they want to do it.
I don’t really care for that way. I’m kind of the old, traditional way — where you punt it up in the air, and you cover it.
DTH: As a former Tar Heel and Panther yourself, what’s your opinion on Julius Peppers returning to his hometown NFL team?
TB: It’s always great to come home and play. I really hated that I didn’t get to play more than one year (with the Panthers), because we brought in all those vets and I got hung up in the salary cap. It’s incredible that you can finish your career here … It’s a great feeling to come home.
DTH: Next week, UNC officials and coaches will be in Nashville, Tenn., for hearings with the NCAA Committee on Infractions. Your thoughts?
TB: It’s sad that we’ve got this black cloud hanging over us. All athletes get a little bit of help at any point in time. It goes on everywhere depending on what university you’re at — some more than others. But, at the same time, it’s sad, because we do have a great reputation there. It is a very difficult school. You’ve got to bust your butt and study, just like everyone else.
But hopefully they’ll get it resolved, and we’ll get to move on.