TAMPA — Bucs kicker Connor Barth says that in the roller-coaster life of an NFL kicker, you never know what the future might bring.
Barth, 23, has learned that the hard way: He is on his third team in two pro seasons since going undrafted out of North Carolina. That's why Barth is staying in a Tampa hotel and why he has secured an insurance license as a backup plan.
It's also what has kept Barth grounded after experiencing an all-time high Sunday against the Dolphins, when he became just the fourth kicker in NFL history to make three field goals of 50 yards or more. Barth, the Bucs' third kicker this season, hopes he's the long-term answer for Tampa Bay, but he still feels like he has a lot to prove.
"I don't want to be a one-week wonder," Barth said. "I want to be kicking well for the rest of the season and for years to come. The main thing for me is staying level-headed, just continue to stay focused on what I'm trying to do."
It's not that Barth lacks confidence. After all, on his first day with the Bucs, Barth said he "feels comfortable to hit every time from 53 yards and in."
Barth, who grew up on the beaches of Wilmington, N.C., has the reputation of exuding a surfer-dude calm on kicks.
"It doesn't seem like he's easily rattled," punter Dirk Johnson said.
Barth credits his consistency to a refined mental approach gleaned from a sports psychologist after his sophomore year at UNC; he has made 43-of-49 attempts (combined college and pro) since.
Barth said he met with Dr. Elizabeth Hedgepeth after a "terrible" second college season, when he missed 11-of-21 field goals. He had struggled to follow up on a special freshman year, which included a winning field goal over No. 4 Miami, one of the biggest moments in Tar Heels football history.
Hedgepeth talked to him about the benefits of visualization, which Barth said he uses for several nights before games, sitting in bed and seeing himself making kicks from different spots on the field.
Barth passed along those tips this fall to his younger brother, Casey, who is a sophomore kicker at UNC. And it has paid off: Casey has made 13 consecutive field goals, including the tying and winning kicks against Virginia Tech.
"It's been crazy," said Barth's father, Tom, a professor at UNC-Wilmington. "You can imagine having not one, but two kickers. It's kind of a roller-coaster life. As you know, you're either a hero or the goat, and there's no in between. … Connor just blazed a path, and little brother wanted to be like big brother. It worked."
Barth's path to Tampa had some twists and turns. Kansas City signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2008 and waived him in August after he failed to beat out Nick Novak. But Barth was re-signed two months later when Novak was released, and he went 10-for-12 for the Chiefs — and he felt like he may have found a home, so he rented an apartment with a one-year lease.
But after Kansas City cleaned house, replacing coach Herm Edwards and hiring Todd Haley, Barth found himself the odd man out when the Chiefs went with Ryan Succop, the last player picked in the 2009 draft.
"It just opened his eyes more to the whole situation," Casey Barth said. "It's not like college; you're not guaranteed a spot for four years. So I think he knows that it's more of a business now."
But Barth stuck with it, and after spending the preseason with the Dolphins, he worked out for the Patriots, Ravens and Bucs in a one-week span in November before Tampa Bay signed him to replace Shane Andrus. The Bucs had gone through a kicking carousel — having released the franchise's most accurate kicker (Matt Bryant) in the preseason and later a $2.5 million free agent (Mike Nugent) — and were hoping to finally find consistency at the position.
Barth has responded by going 4-for-5, capped off by an unforgettable performance Sunday at Miami, hitting field goals of 54, 51 and 50 yards and endearing himself to his teammates, and coaches.
"It gave everybody confidence," coach Raheem Morris said. "The team was elated. I never watched that many people watch a field goal before. Everybody was up and excited when we called the field goal. They were looking at me, like: 'Kick it, Coach. We can make it.' "
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.