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Walk-on linebacker from Melrose, N.M., poised to start for NMSU

At first glance the story of New Mexico State University middle linebacker Clint Barnard seems common: all-state prep football player, who led his high school team to an undefeated season and state championship twice, starting at middle linebacker for major Division I university in his home state.

NMSU linebacker Clint Barnard on the football field.
Walk-on linebacker Clint Barnard from Melrose, N.M., is poised to start for New Mexico State University. (NMSU Courtesy Photo)
Head and shoulders photo of NMSU linebacker Clint Barnard.
New Mexico State University linebacker Clint Barnard from Melrose, N.M. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

A closer look at Barnard's story, however, reveals that his story is anything but common. Despite his many football accomplishments and accolades in high school, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Barnard did not receive any scholarship offers from a Division I school. It wasn't because of his performance, but rather because of where he played high school football.

Barnard attended Melrose High School in Melrose, N.M., a small town in eastern New Mexico about 25 miles west of Clovis. According to the 2011 census, Melrose has a population of less than 700 people and is no bigger than the campus where Barnard now attends school.

Of course, the football team at Melrose did not belong to any of the bigger divisions of high school football in New Mexico. In fact, Melrose wasn't even big enough to play 11-man football. Instead the high school was relegated to the eight-man football division.

"When I played in middle school, it was actually just six-man football," Barnard said. "I didn't play eight-man football until my freshman year in high school, when the state changed us from six to eight, but football is football no matter if its six-man, eight-man or 11-man, the fundamentals of the game never change."

Like most eight-man players, Barnard played on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. He excelled both as the quarterback and linebacker for the Buffaloes. He was an all-state selection both on offense and defense during his junior and senior years, while leading Melrose to two 13-0 seasons and two state championships.

Upon his graduation in 2010, the only schools that came knocking were all Division II schools. Barnard knew that because of playing in such an obscure, small town it was going to be difficult to attract any attention from Division I schools, but he also knew that he had the drive and determination to one day reach that level.

"I had lots of offers from Division II schools," Barnard said, "but my mentality was always that I was going to make it, somehow, some way."

Barnard credits his drive, motivation and hard-work ethic to the small-town mentality and guidance and values instilled in him by his parents, both of whom were also Division I athletes. His father was a football player at West Texas A&M, and his mother was a basketball player at Wayland Baptist.

"My dad had me working since I was very small, and I learned very quickly what it meant to put in a good day's work," Barnard said.

Barnard ended up accepting a scholarship to play at Division II New Mexico Highlands located a short trip away in Las Vegas, N.M. He was originally recruited as a quarterback and was redshirted his first year, traveling with the team but never getting the opportunity to play. After a coaching change the following year, Barnard was moved to the defensive side of the ball by the new staff. That is when Barnard began to show his talent. He became a starter while playing all three linebacker positions.

Having settled in and coming off a good year at linebacker, Barnard still felt he was destined for more. He struggled between whether to stay at Highlands or make the jump to a bigger university. All along knowing that if he did jump to a D-I school he would have to make the team as a walk-on and, even if he did make the team, would probably have to sit out a year because of NCAA regulations concerning transfers. Yet, even with all the obstacles ahead, Barnard decided it was time to move on.

"I had a good year as a redshirt freshman at Highlands and that is when I decided to come to NM State," Barnard said. "I wanted to prove to myself and to others that I could play at the D-I level."

Barnard first stepped onto the practice field at NM State during the fall camp of 2012, attempting to make the Aggie squad. The impact was immediate. Former NM State head coach Dewayne Walker and his staff were so impressed with Barnard that they gave him a roster spot, despite knowing he would redshirt in 2012.

Again, Barnard credits his father for helping him make the Aggie squad.

"I came in here knowing what to expect, my dad gave me insight because, before he earned his scholarship at his school, he was a walk-on as well," Barnard said. "He told me from the beginning that all I was going to be was a number, and that I had to prove myself and earn my spot every day. And it was true; I was just a number until I proved myself."

One year later, after continuing his impressive play during spring practices and becoming NCAA eligible, Barnard has positioned himself to become the Aggies' starting middle linebacker for the 2013 campaign. Yet, Barnard knows he must continue to work hard because nothing is given and anything can happen.

"That's the thing about D-I football, you have your daily competition with the guys behind you," Barnard said. "They're just as willing and hard working as you, so you have to work that much harder."

Barnard, doesn't plan on giving up his position, nor does he plan on just being happy with being a starter.

"This was always my goal, to become, not just a starter, but a real force," Barnard said. "I don't want to just make it, I actually want to do something with it and make my mark. One thing I always tell myself is that I never want to just settle, for anything."

No one knows what the future holds for this talented young man who first put on football pads in the fourth grade and went from six-man to eight-man to Division II and finally Division I football, but one thing is for certain, wherever he goes he knows that there will always be a small group of people in a dusty little town in the eastern part of New Mexico cheering him on.

"When someone from a small town actually does something like this, everyone looks up to you, and now that I made it this far, we'll see how much farther I can take it," Barnard said. "I know everyone back home is behind me."