Altus Bulldog placekicker Gabe Barton watched from the sidelines as his team took the ball 45 yards down the field in 12 plays Dec. 5, 2015.
There was not much time left on the clock and with the score tied at 28 apiece, Barton knew the game and ever-evasive state championship would come down to him.
Barton lined up his kick 40 yards out from the goalposts. He mentally prepared himself for the kick, which at 40 yards was not a given. There are National Football League kickers who have trouble with the distance.
But Barton was collected and on the first try, he nailed it.
The crowd and his teammates erupted into cheers. The Altus Bulldogs had just won their first state championship since 1971 in front of a standing-room-only crowd of more than 5,000 fans.
And then they lost it.
Just before Barton kicked, the Collinsville coach had called a timeout in an attempt to ice him.
Icing is the method by which an opposing coach calls a timeout just before the ball is kicked in an attempt to psyche the kicker out.
Order was restored to the game and Barton lined up his second kick.
The clock read 3.8 seconds.
Barton’s jersey read number 38.
As it turns out, this was his moment. This was what he was made for.
Barton’s second kick split the uprights as time expired. The crowd erupted, his teammates rushed the field and those that were already on the field, rushed him. Barton was a hero that day and because of the confidence he had in himself and because of his ability to keep calm under pressure, the Altus Bulldog football team left Yukon as the state champions for only the second time in school history.
“That will always be my favorite memory of my time as an Altus Bulldog,” Barton said. “A moment like that is a dream come true.”
Of course, it should really come as a surprise to no one. Barton is a three-time state champion — twice with the swim team and once with the football team — and so competing under pressure is something he has been quite familiar with throughout his high school career.
It is how he answers each time that makes him the outstanding athlete that he is.
His teammates, coaches and most everyone who knew Barton called him “The Toe.” He earned the nickname from Jack Diltz and it is hard to find another that would be more fitting.
Unbeknownst to him, Barton’s legacy was firmly cemented in Bulldog football history as soon as the football found its home between the goalposts.
“Gabe is a great kid, he is the epitome of when preparation meets opportunity,” Head Coach Todd Vargas said. “A lot of people didn’t know how much he kicked during the summer. He would go down to the field by himself and spend countless hours kicking the football. He is a very determined young man.”
“It’s not easy being a kicker when you’re just a kicker because almost all the time during practice, he was doing his own things while the team was practicing offense and defense,” he said. “A lot of the time, he was coaching himself. He put a lot of work into it and the kid deserves every bit of the recognition that he got because he was a full team player, a brotherhood and a great, great young man.”
Barton embraced the team ideal of family — the word can be seen across the back of the players’ jerseys — and gives credit to coaches Matt Terry and Jonathon Lamb and team trainer Mitch McLaughlin as positive role models and mentors.
Now, Barton will take his determination, dedication and work ethic with him to the University of Central Oklahoma where he will be a preferred walk-on for the Bronchos football team and upon graduation may join the Coast Guard.
“We wish Gabe the best in his future endeavors,” Jim Brown said. “We give him a Bulldog-sized thank you for a historic triumph we will all celebrate for decades to come.”
Reach Ryan Lewis at 580-482-1221, ext. 2076.