Late-blooming Barnard has Hammonton rolling

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Zach Barnard.

Zach Barnard remembers his first impression of football.

It wasn't a good one.

"I didn't like it at first," said Barnard, a senior who has led Hammonton to a 3-0 record and the No. 7 spot in The Inquirer Top 25 rankings.

Part of the problem from Barnard's perspective was that his first exposure to football wasn't football - it was a workout in the weight room.

This was in the summer before Barnard's freshman year. He had never played football before that.

"I was a soccer guy my whole life," Barnard said.

Barnard said he quickly grew to "love football."

And he has become an impact player in the sport, too.

Barnard is coming off the best offensive game of his career. He ran for 181 yards and four touchdowns - all in the first half - in Hammonton's 56-24 victory over Pennsauken on Friday.

"What's really surprised us is his vision and his runs after contact," Hammonton first-year coach Jim Raso said. "We saw it in the scrimmages. He was dragging guys. We were like, 'We have something here.' "

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Barnard has a scholarship offer from Army and has drawn recruiting interest from programs such as Pitt and Rutgers.

"He's got so much good football ahead of him," Raso said, noting that Barnard is still learning some of the intricacies of the game.

Barnard played on the freshman team. He was a junior-varsity player who saw limited action on the varsity as a sophomore.

"Last year [as a junior] was really the first time I saw varsity football," Barnard said. "I had to get a feel for the game."

Raso said Barnard said to make an impact late in 2014. But a strong offseason in the weight room has made a major difference, the coach said.

"He's made himself into a great player," Raso said.

Barnard said he prefers linebacker to fullback.

"As a linebacker, you can make a play on every play," Barnard said.

But while Barnard is a defensive leader for the Blue Devils, his work at fullback has been instrumental to the team's successful start.

With a relatively inexperienced quarterback in junior Malachi Winters, the Blue Devils have been able to keep defenses on their heels because of Barnard's powerful inside running.

"When we have our fullback game going, it opens up everything else," Raso said. "When we played Kingsway (in a 16-13 win in the opener), I don't know how many times he carried it but it seemed like every play."

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