When Alex Barbir pierced the early November Virginia air with his 51 yard game winning field goal to give the Liberty Flames an unexpected 38-35 win over Virginia Tech, he became the hero of what has emerged as THE fairy tale story of the 2020 College Football season.
The rise of the protagonist is perhaps as surprising as the story itself. Three years ago Barbir left Penn State University and with it closed the book on his football career. Against North Carolina State this weekend both player and program have the opportunity to add another chapter to this most compelling of narratives.
Alex Barbir; not just "any" kicker
As the hoards of players, coaches, and athletic staff dispersed from Lane Stadium, one figure sat alone. Sat with his head in his hands, the #95 jersey still proudly on his back, Alex Barbir took a moment to himself to reflect on what he had just achieved.
“To go from having surgery, leaving Penn State, coming here. Not playing, then playing. My whole life changing. Now playing a major role in beating Virginia Tech for Liberty. I was so blown away.”
Kicking the field goal to win the biggest game in your program’s history is an incredible achievement for any kicker. However, Alex Barbir isn’t “any” kicker.
On the outside, he isn’t “any” kicker. Few players at the position pack 220lbs into a 5’9″ frame. Barbir’s build is akin to trotting Arnold Schwarzenegger out on to the field. However, it’s his journey from high school standout to that winning field goal and beyond to this weekend’s clash that make him different.
From playing at high school to Penn State
The football journey started much like every other kid in America for Alex Barbir with High School football. The Alpharetta, GA native was a multi sport star at South Forsyth High School. A track and soccer star alongside football, it was on the gridiron where he really stood out.
A two-time All-State kicker with an 84% field goal success, he was rated as a 3* recruit by most recruiting sites and was courted by several power five programs whilst taking unofficial visits to many more including Clemson, and somewhat prophetically, Liberty.
Amongst the power five offers was Penn State and in early February 2016, Alex Barbir signed his letter of intent to become a part of the Nittany Lions.
"Football was not in the plan. I was done"
Although he saw game time in 2017, averaging 61.7 yards per kickoff over three appearances, Penn State wasn’t the catalyst to career success. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
“I was at Penn State for two years” Barbir begins to tell the assembled media. “I had hip surgery there, couldn’t walk for however long and did rehab. It felt like I never really got back to being myself. I ended up leaving Penn State all together after my second season there. Quit football altogether.”
It wasn’t just a case of transferring to another university to pursue football opportunities elsewhere. With the transfer portal now the equivalent of a free agency it is so often utilised by players who want to get more game time under their belt.
Not for Alex Barbir.
“Football was not in the plan for my life. I was done. I wanted to live a normal life. Be a student, get a job, move on.”
Alex Barbir and Liberty bonded by belief
For the best part of two and a half years, that’s what Alex Barbir did. His two brothers had been students at Liberty University, and Alex followed in the family tradition. In the faith based university he found the perfect home to get back to himself. Faith and belief became the helping hand to overcome the obstacles that had been placed in his path.
Then in the spring of 2020, an opportunity presented itself.
It had been easy to avoid football at Liberty. The Flames had a kicker in Alex Probert and although he could have sat on the bench, it wasn’t something that Alex Barbir wanted or needed.
In the spring, however, Probert transferred away from the program and the Flames found themselves in need of a kicker, with someone with power five experience in their midst.
“Got an opportunity to come in this spring and get on the team. I didn’t really have any excuse. What is my excuse to not even try? I’m always someone who is a hard worker, determined. I’m going to go hard regardless.”
"Once I saw that thing go through..."
As with every chapter in the Alex Barbir story, it hasn’t all been plain sailing since that spring decision to return to the football field. In the most disrupted pre-season in recent College Football history he lost valuable time with another injury.
“I had a pulled groin for three months. I had a month and a half to prepare for this season after not kicking for three years.”
The season didn’t start in a fairy tale manner for Barbir. Whether it was a little rust after his lengthy lay off or a lack of confidence, he went 4/7 on field goals to open the season.
“It’s been mentally very tough, getting back into being myself and who I am.”
Hi mental toughness and faith have carried him through.
Barbir went 3/3 in the next two games against Louisiana-Monroe and in the first of Liberty’s power five victories against Syracuse. Although he missed a field goal against Southern Mississippi he more than made up for it against Virginia Tech.
“Once I saw that thing go through, I started running and I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t contain my excitement and emotion.”
“To have this happen to me, at this time in the season, for me it’s completely god. That is what has gotten me through my life and all the detours I’ve been on. I’ve been blown away to be truly honest.”
Alex Barbir: A hero in waiting
He followed up the last gasp winner against Virginia Tech by nailing a career long 54 yard field goal in the walkover win against Western Virginia. Although the score itself didn’t count for much, the confidence that Alex Barbir is gaining with every kick is increasingly important for the Liberty Flames football team.
“It’s huge, him coming into having more confidence” head coach Hugh Freeze told me.“We believe in him to make critical field goals and that will pay dividends for us. Points are going to be huge when you get the opportunity to get them in this game. We’ve got to take them, and he plays a huge role in that.”
One of the elements that has made this Liberty football story so special in 2020 has been it’s togetherness. Every individual has their role to play.
“We haven’t been perfect as indivduals, but we’ve been perfect together” has become a common Hugh Freeze phrase.
On Saturday night against NC State, however Alex Barbir could have the role of hero for the second time in three weeks.
It’s the role that has been waiting for him for a long time.
OLIVER HODGKINSON IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL WRITER FOR THE TOUCHDOWN. HE ALSO WRITES ON THE NFL FOR THE PRO FOOTBALL NETWORK. YOU CAN HEAR HIS OPINIONS ON ALL THINGS COLLEGE FOOTBALL AS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.