It’s time for another installment of the Heel Tough Blog’s offseason series. The series will place the top players in Tar Heel football history at each position group into five different tiers to determine their standings in Tar Heel history. The series will continue today by looking at the five tiers of Tar Heel specialists.
Tier 1: Brian Schmitz
A punter lead us off here on the special teams list. Brian Schmitz is easily the most decorated punter in school history. His 44.4 yards per punt is easily the best career average of any punter to wear a Tar Heel uniform, and his 47.8 yard per punt in 1999 is also the top mark in program history. Schmitz would receive second-team All-ACC honors in 1998 before his phenomenal senior season landed him on the first-team All-ACC, as well as The Sporting News All-America first team.
Tier 2: Casey Barth, Connor Barth
We move from the record-setting punter to a record-setting kicker. Casey Barth is the career leader for made field goal attempts at North Carolina with 66 of his 82 career field goals splitting the uprights and his 80.5% career field goal conversion percentage is the best of any Tar Heel kicker with 30 or more attempts. His 21 made field goals in 2009 ties his with Tier 4 member Clint Gwaltney for the most in a single season in Tar Heel history. Casey was named to the All-ACC second-team twice in his career in 2009 and 2012.
The other member of the tier is Barth’s brother Connor. Before Casey arrived on campus, Connor was the record-breaking kicker for the Tar Heels. From 2004 to 2007, Connor connected on 54 of his 71 field goal attempts, breaking the record previously held by Tier 3 member Josh McGee. Connor’s 76.1% career conversion rate is sixth among Tar Heel kicker with more than 30 attempts.
Tier 3: Tommy Barnhardt, Steve Streater, Scott McCalister, Tom Sheldon, Brooks Barwick
We begin Tier 3 with another punter that put together a strong career in Chapel Hill. The first-team All-ACC member in 1985 finished his career with a very solid 41.8 yard per punt average, a mark that is only bested by Tier 1 member Brian Schmitz and a guy we’ll find later here in Tier 3, Tom Sheldon. Barnhardt also has the exclusive distinction of being the only Tar Heel punter or kicker to ever be drafted to the NFL.
You may remember the next name on this list from our last installment of the Heel Tough Blog Offseason Series and he appears here again after splitting time at defensive back and punter. Steve Streater handled both duties for three seasons from 1978 to 1980. Streater averaged 41.8 yards per punt for his career and is the only player in Tar Heel history to ever appear on the All-ACC teams twice in the same season at different positions (first-team punter and defensive back in 1980).
Scott McAlister continues the run of punter here on this list. The only Tar Heel special teams member to ever make an All-ACC three times, McAlister was nominated to the second-team in each of his final three seasons on campus. McAlister finished his career with a 41.4 yards per punt average in his career on 278 career punt.
The third tier continues with yet another punter and the most recent Tar Heel on this list. Tom Sheldon only spent two seasons on campus in Chapel Hill, but they were two very strong seasons. Sheldon averaged more than 42.0 yards per punt in both of his seasons, including a 45.8 yard per punt mark in 2017, the second-best single-season mark in school history. His career mark of 44.2 yards per punt sits just behind the mark set by Brian Schmitz and one can only question why he was never able to appear on an All-ACC team in either of those two seasons.
The final member of Tier 3 is our first and only kicker in the third tier. Brooks Barwick was only a two-year starter at place kick for the Tar Heels, but in those two seasons, he piled up some impressive numbers. Barwick converted 37 of his 46 career field goal attempts, including a 1982 season that saw him connect on 20 of his 23 attempts. Despite those numbers in 1982, he never received any postseason recognition. Still, Barwick’s 80.4% conversion rates on field goals is the second best in program history amongst kickers with 30 or more field goal attempt, trailing Tier 2 member Casey Barth by one percentage point.
Tier 4: Clint Gwaltney, Tommy Hibbard, Jeff Reed, Josh McGee
We get back to the kickers here in Tier 4, starting with Clint Gwaltney. The 1990 second-team All-ACC member is tied for the single-season record in successful field goals in a season with 21, a number set during that 1990 season. In his four year career, Gwaltney converted 43 of his 64 career field goals, a 66.7% career conversion rate. His 1989 season, where he converted just 5 of 14 field goal attempts is what prevents him from being higher on this list.
We couldn’t stay away from punters too long, as early 2010’s punter Tommy Hibbard is the next member of this fourth tier. Hibbard only found himself on an All-ACC team once (second-team in 2012), but he put together a very solid four-year career in Chapel Hill. Hibbard would average over 41.0 yards per punt in each of his final three seasons on campus on the way to him finishing his career with a 41.6 yards per punt average on 230 career punts.
It may have taken our next member of the fourth tier until his junior season to become the full-time starting kicker, but did he ever put together a strong career. Jeff Reed earned All-ACC second-team honors as a junior, after converting on 16 of his 20 field goal attempts. In his Tar Heel career, Reed hit 28 of his 36 field goal attempt equaling a 77.8% conversion rate, a mark that is only topped by Tier 2’s Casey Barth, Tier 3’s Brooks Barwick and Tier 5’s Tripp Pignetti.
The final member of this fourth tier is the player that prevented Reed from being higher on this list. Josh McGee still sits third in program history with 52 successful field goal attempts in his Tar Heel career and his six field goal makes in the 1999 game against Duke still sits as the most field goal makes in a single game for a Tar Heel kicker. McGee’s 72.2% conversion rate on field goals is the only things that keeps him from being in Tier 3.
Tier 5: Jeff Hayes, Nick Weiler, Tripp Pignetti
The final tier begins with Jeff Hayes, one of the few Tar Heels to handle both kicking an punting duties in his career. Hayes had his struggles as a kicker, converting on just 44.0% of his 50 field goal attempts, but he did have success as a punter. In his four career, Hayes was only a full-time starter at punter for one season, but that 1981 season earned him first-team All-ACC honors while averaging 41.8 per punt. Hayes would finish his career with a 40.1 yards per punt average.
Nick Weiler’s career will always be remembered by his game-winner on the road in Tallahassee in 2016, but his career was more than just that one kick. Although he got off to a bit of a shaky start in 2014, Weiler took over as the Tar Heels full-time kicker in 2015 and over the final two years of his career connected on 35 of his 44 attempts. His 76.9% conversion rate is fifth in Tar Heel history.
Tripp Pignetti will close us out here for the special teams rankings. Pignetti was a three-year starter at placekicker for the Heels from 1992 to 1994, where he converted 38 of his 48 career attempts. His 79.2% field goal conversion rate ranks third in school history.