Every child running around his or her backyard with a football has dreams of making a game-winning play. They dream of throwing a touchdown pass, juking a defender at the goal line or catching a crucial interception to seal a game.
Kicking a clutch field goal, though? What kid dreams of kicking a 40-yard field goal to deliver the victory?
Barret Pickering’s friends and family have been watching him live that dream for years, all the way up to his arrival at Nebraska. While he may have honed his skills on the football field, his love for kicking began in the backyard.
His older siblings, Jenna and Max, helped Barret cultivate an early love for sports by constantly playing with him at their family home in Hoover, Alabama.
“Growing up, he was obsessed with any sport, anything with a ball,” Jenna said. “Whenever we had free time as kids, he’d want to be outside.”
While the Pickerings were not originally from Hoover, they moved there when Barret was a toddler and have called it home ever since.
“It’s a really pretty city with very nice people who definitely love their football,” Jenna said. “It has that Southern feel to it, good food and the weather’s not terrible, so I think that’s kind of why we all love it.”
As a part of the town’s football craze, Barret eventually found his passion for the game. Originally a soccer player, he first tried football in the seventh grade based on advice from his father and hasn’t looked back since.
“After freshman year, I got good enough at football where I got to go to camps and compete with people, so then I started taking it more serious, just seeing a future in football,” Barret said.
Football has never been the only thing on Pickering’s mind, as academics have always been a priority in his life. While his older siblings attended Spain Park High School, Barret went to Hoover High School in order to participate in the school’s academically rigorous International Baccalaureate program.
He also earned a 4.0 GPA in his first semester at Nebraska and said academics were a key factor in his decision to become a Husker.
“This place does a great job of offering academic support, even for high-level classes,” Barret said. “If you need help, they’ll find it for you.”
Gabriel Rodriguez worked closely with Barret as a teacher and as special teams coordinator at Hoover High and recognized his dedication to academics.
“He was a super smart kid, academics meant more to him than football itself, and we all know how much he loves football, otherwise he wouldn’t be playing for Nebraska,” Rodriguez said.
Barret’s talent was quickly spotted at Hoover, as he was called up to the school’s varsity team as a freshman to kick at points during the season. Due to the solitary nature of the position, many kickers isolate themselves and let other players lead the team.
Pickering is not one of those kickers.
“Barret was the first one there in the weight room to do everything that was required of him,” Rodriguez said. “He knew that he wanted those other guys to see him leading.”
It was dedication both in the weight room and on the field that helped Pickering develop his craft. According to his high school friend and long snapper Brennen Milliron, if either of them ever made a mistake during practice, they would stay afterward and continue practicing until they got it right.
Currently on the roster at Troy as a long snapper, Milliron was excited by the opportunity to travel to Lincoln on Sept. 15 and reunite with his former teammate.
“Barret was a good friend to me and others off the field,” Milliron said. “He was a very likeable guy, always joking around but knew when to take things seriously as well.”
Apart from performing well for Hoover, Pickering also attracted attention based on his performance at kicking camps led by Jamie Kohl, a nationally known kicking coach. Rodriguez said he credits Kohl for helping mold Pickering into the player he is today.
Those kicking camps also served as a wake-up call for Pickering’s sister, who has only just realized the scope of her younger brother’s talents.
“I started hearing that he was ranked from a couple of kicking camps and his rankings were always really good nationally, and that’s when I realized it wasn’t just an Alabama thing, he was actually really good,” Jenna said.
When it came time to decide where to spend his college days, it came down to Vanderbilt and Nebraska for Pickering. While Nebraska was always his front-runner, an official visit to Lincoln was what truly made up his mind.
“He felt the warmth from the coaching staff, loved the facilities and just being out there and seeing it first-hand is what truly sold him,” Jenna said.
Pickering had large shoes to fill at Nebraska, as he replaced four-year starting kicker Drew Brown. He competed with walk-on Cole Frahm for the team’s starting spot, which he ultimately earned when the team’s depth chart was released in late August. Pickering missed field goals in both of Nebraska’s first two games this season, but only one of his misses came within 40 yards. However, he did make five field goals in the team’s first six games.
According to Jenna, he never takes his misses lightly and always works hard to improve his performances in the future.
“He puts tremendous pressure on himself. I remember him coming home from high school games and just beating himself up if he missed a field goal or it wasn’t his best game ever,” she said. “He definitely takes it very seriously and understands the heaviness and the weight of that position.”
Being a team’s starting kicker can bring stress and pressure, so players often look for a way to unwind. Fishing and watching movies are two ways Pickering relaxes, with golfing being his go-to leisure activity.
As Pickering works through his first season at the collegiate level, he still stays in touch with his former high school coach. Before what was supposed to be the team’s season opener against Akron in early September, he called Rodriguez to ask for advice.
“The only thing that we hang our hat on here at Hoover High School is to do your job, and the rest will take care of itself,” Rodriguez said. “He’s getting the chance to be out there and he’ll be ready when his time is called.”
A talented student and leader on and off the field, Pickering will play an important role for Nebraska. His sister, like most people he meets, appreciates Barret for not only being a talented kicker but a great person.
“He’s one of the nicest, most down-to-earth people I know,” Jenna said. “He’s a really good kid with a good sense of humor.”
This article was originally published in the November/December 2018 edition of The DN.