Bright and early this morning David and Regina Barbour are driving to Alabama to cheer for their son in a national championship football game.
Mount Airy alumnus Reece Barbour plays long snapper for the Winston-Salem State Rams, who will take on Valdosta State this Saturday for the Division II title.
The game will be televised, but the Barbours are going with their daughter Bailey to Florence, Ala., to see it in person.
“I’m pretty proud,” said mom Regina, an assistant principal at East Surry. She said several people came up to her at school Thursday to talk about Reece.
Both parents said Reece has worked very hard to make it to this point.
Regina said when Reece was in grade school, David put him at center even though he wasn’t as big as the other kids.
He was the only one who could consistently hike the ball properly, Regina said. That same ability is what has earned Reece a starting spot first for the Bears and now the Rams.
Long snapper is one of those jobs where no one notices him until he makes a mistake. Reece hikes the ball backward between his legs about 15 yards to the punter. Then he holds up the rushers long enough for the punt to take flight. Then he sprints downfield to help make the tackle.
The Carolina Panthers’ first long snapper, Mark Rodenhauser, did his job quietly for three years before being released after the 1997 season. The very next year the Panthers had a couple of bad snaps that hurt the team.
Carolina learned its lesson and picked up veteran Jason Kyle and kept him at the spot for eight years.
“I love running down the field,” said Reece. “It’s a rush — nothing is better than trying to make a tackle.”
Under Head Coach Kelly Holder and position coach Donald Price, Reece was the starting center and long snapper for Mount Airy on the 2008 team that won the state title.
The kicker he worked with that season is now a starting punter for the University of South Carolina. Tyler Hull is averaging a nice 39.4 yards per punt in his first year in Columbia, S.C., as a walk-on.
Reece was a good player and a quiet leader, said Holder. He worked hard to make himself better.
After high school, Reece enrolled at Lenoir-Rhyne and walked on to the football team. He said he played in just one game and then was red-shirted for the rest of the season.
That meant as far as the NCAA was concerned, Reece still had four years of eligibility left.
The next season, he moved into the lineup and played the full season. Still, Reece said Lenoir just didn’t feel like a good fit.
After growing up in a small town, he wanted to be in a bigger city.
He came back to Surry County and began working at The Dairy Center. He signed up for classes at WSSU and commuted to Winston-Salem every day.
“I never thought I’d play football again,” he said.
One day in history class, he was talking to “Big Nate,” Nathaniel Hartung, the 380-pound offensive lineman.
Nate asked Reece if he played any football. Sure, he was the long snapper at Lenoir-Rhyne for a year.
That got Nate’s attention, and he went to special teams coach Kienus Boulware.
Boulware felt that was a position that could use some depth and agreed to check Reece out. Rather than be on the football field, Boulware had Reece run through some drills in the parking lot of Bowman Gray Stadium.
It didn’t take long for the coach to invite Reece to spring practices.
It sounds like a scene from the football movie “Rudy,” but Reece has been known to sneak a sleeping bag into the football facility so that he can crash there, said dad David. Between homework and early-morning practices, there wasn’t always time to drive two hours round-trip to the house.
Reece is also a bit Rudy-esque in stature at a modest 5-foot-8, but he is a solidy built 190 pounds.
Reece wasn’t on the field for the first game, but has started the past 13 as WSSU has gone 14-0, a new record for wins by a historically black college.
Reece said he appreciates his playing time now. It really is true that people don’t know what they have until it’s gone, he noted.
Still, as he prepares to become a senior academically, he’s not sure if he’ll be back on the team next fall.
“If we win the title, I might just ride off into the sunset,” he said.
Reece carries a 3.9 grade-point average in special education with a minor in Spanish, said David.
He could work in special ed or as a Spanish teacher, noted his mom.
That the young man would be interested in teaching comes as no surprise with two parents at East Surry.
David coaches the girls JV basketball team, but is skipping tonight’s game with Winston-Salem Prep to make the trip.
Daughter Davi, however, is staying behind. Davi is a starting guard for the Lady Bears basketball team. She is first on the team in assists (4.5) and foul shooting (85 percent). She is second on the team in scoring, steals and three-pointers made (hitting a respectable 38 percent).
Regina said she asked David how it felt to have a child playing for a national title. David reminded her that Davi once played for a national title in AAU basketball. She competed in the 11-12 championship with a few girls who are now her teammates as well as Surry Central’s Courtney Hegler and East Surry’s Lauren Thompson.
Those two are so competitive, said Regina. Davi reminds Reece that he only one a single state title while her tennis team has two back-to-back state titles. Reece responded that a national title trumps state titles, even if she comes back to win a third tennis title next year.
First he has to win that title. On Thursday, the special-teams unit went through a one-hour practice at the University of Northern Alabama. Today, the team won’t hold a practice, but will have a walk-through to remind players of the game plan.
Traveling to Alabama was the first plane ride for Reece and some of his teammates. The players always travel by bus, even for the nine-hour trip to Cleveland, Ohio.
Reece hopes the flight home is even more memorable as the team brings back a win.
In the 40 years of the Division II championship, no historically black college or university has ever won the title. The only black school to win a title at any national level was Florida A&M for the Division I-AA championship in 1978.
Reece is one of three white players on the team along with Hispanic kicker Alejandro Suarez.
He might be just a walk-on, but he likes getting the guys fired up, said Regina. Before the game, he’s usually the one addressing the special-team unit, she noted.
ESPN2 will televise the game starting at 1 p.m.