ORONO — Matt Barber thrives on the satisfaction he derives from working in relative anonymity.
That might seem a tough task for the native of Damascus, Md., since he is impossible to miss at 6-foot-6, 295 pounds.
As an offensive guard on the University of Maine football team, Barber encounters frequent challenges that motivate him to try to perfect his craft alongside his teammates in the trenches.
“It’s something I always had to really work at,” Barber said of playing on the line. “I think that’s why it has been a passion for me, because it wasn’t something that came easy.”
The fifth-year senior will be a key performer Saturday when the Black Bears travel to the Carrier Dome for a 7:15 p.m. game against Bowl Championship Subdivision member Syracuse University.
Taking on the Orange of the Big East Conference not only will be fun for Barber, but will provide him and the rest of the offensive line with a stiff test.
“It definitely adds a different level of excitement to it because of the atmosphere and the fans,” Barber said. “We don’t get that chance very often to go out in front of 55, 60,000 people. You have to kind of channel it and focus.”
Barber is quick to point out there aren’t any NCAA statistics attached to the performance of offensive linemen. Their success is measured instead by the ability of their offense to move the football, both on the ground and through the air, and to score points consistently.
“You don’t get that glory, despite the fact the success of our team on both sides of the ball relies on the success of the lines,” he said.
Being an offensive lineman requires strength, execution of techniques and communication within the unit. It is a demanding position. He works hard on the field and behind the scenes.
“He’s sort of like the offensive line coach on the field,” said UMaine offensive line coach Frank Giufre. “He’s constantly watching film, asking questions. He wants the i’s dotted, the t’s crossed, and he’s pretty good at doing that.”
The Bears’ offensive line is hoping to gel this season as Barber tries to help get all five players, including a handful of underclassmen, in sync. UMaine led the Colonial Athletic Association in rushing in 2008, then was tops in passing a year ago.
The quest now is for better balance.
Barber believes playing on the line requires as much, if not more, skill than the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers whose positions carry that label.
“The O-line is so much involved in technique and unnatural movements. People don’t really realize how intricate it is,” he explained.
Communication is another essential component of the Bears’ offensive line scheme. Barber and the group must be able to recognize defensive alignments and quickly relay the information to the rest of the unit.
“For us to be successful, we have to all be on the same page,” he said.
Barber has been an integral member of the UMaine offensive line for the last three seasons, during which he has started 23 games. He spent his first two years trying to earn his way on the field.
“He’s been a real important part of our offensive line, a three-year starter for us,” UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove said of Barber. “I think he’s playing his best football right now. He’s really improved.”
Barber said his development at UMaine can be attributed in part to the tutelage of the fiery Giufre, who is a dedicated teacher and motivator.
“It’s been paramount in my development,” Barber aid of Giufre’s guidance. “Coach Giufre is the best coach I’ve ever had. He’s so invested emotionally, personally, in your success.”
Barber prides himself on his experience, his knowledge of the position and the ability to interact with his fellow linemen.
“He’s a mature young man,” Cosgrove said. “He would be a guy who was aware of the schemes and the protections and the technical aspects of the offensive line position as well as anybody.”
Coming out of Damascus High School, where he won two state championships, Barber had held out hope he might get a chance to play at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
Five days before the start of the National Letter of Intent signing period, Barber visited UMaine, Albany and Southeast Missouri. He liked UMaine.
Upon his graduation next spring, the exercise science major hopes to stay involved with the game he loves, if possible.
“I want to coach. I want to stay attached to football,” said Barber, who also is interested in teaching strength and conditioning.”