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Path becomes clear for Bulldog kicker Ryder Barinowski

by FRITZ NEIGHBOR
Daily Inter Lake | March 27, 2024 12:00 AM

Three summers ago Ryder Barinowski was a four-sport athlete at Whitefish High School, and two of the sports were in the fall: Soccer and football.

Then one day while working at the Iron Horse Golf Club, Barinowski approached a man named Matt Stover and things changed.

“Me meeting Matt Stover, that was a gift,” Barinowski said Wednesday morning, before a signing ceremony where he and fellow Bulldog footballer Mason Kelch inked with Montana Tech. Kelch will likely play secondary for the Orediggers; Barinowski is a kicker, and a good one. 

In a (Flathead) valley that has produced Kyle Griffith, Brandon Purdy and Patrick Rohrbach, Barinowski quietly piled up 153 points for the Bulldogs. That includes two touchdowns scored but also 13 career field goals in 16 attempts.  

That’s a pretty sparkling percentage, and he can’t thank Stover enough. 

“It was a super cool experience. It’s been super eye-opening for me,” Barinowski said. “He’s been more than a coach to me. He’s a mentor.”

Of course Stover, of the 19 NFL seasons and 2,004 career points, passes the credit back to the pupil.

“I met Ryder on the driving range, and he was telling me he was a kicker, and I said, ‘Well, let’s get together,’ ” Stover said. “He was really invested in it, and that’s what I appreciated. He  always initiated the relationship, and I just broke it down for him.”

The first task was to build leg strength. Stover compared it to asking a pitcher to come in and instantly throw 100 fastballs. You have to work up to it.

“I met him at the high school and I told him, ‘Now you’ve got three weeks. Go work. And I’ll know if you have been working or not when we meet again,’" Stover said. “And he improved, and I said, ‘OK, let’s go work for another hour and 15 minutes.”

The tutorials were occasional, and comparable to that of a swing coach at Iron Horse. He can’t be there all the time; you have to put in the work. Soon Barinowski concentrated on football in the fall, and not long after that he started getting attention from colleges.

He heard from and/or visited Montana, Montana State, Eastern Washington and more. It was Montana Tech that rang his phone off the hook and offered a scholarship.

“Tech recruited me super hard,” he said. “Their coaches were emphatic. I visited, and something is different there, seeing the coaches there and how they treat the players. It’s inspiring.”

Granted sideline passes at a Griz game, Stover and Barinowski watched the Grizzlies make their tunnel run amid pyrotechnics and cheers. Bear Barinowki, Ryder’s dad, remembered Stover breaking the reverie with a question: Did you notice which way the smoke was drifting?

This attention to detail has been passed on before. 

Among Stover’s pupils were NFL kickers Chris Boniol and Josh Scobee, both of them — like Stover — alums of Louisiana Tech. 

Mason Crosby was 12 or 13 when he first spent time with Stover, way before he made his way to the Packers. Florida kicker Trace Smack, a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award last season, was a lacrosse teammate of Stover’s son.

It’s pretty good company for Barinowski, in whom Stover sees the same desire.

“He learned how to manage himself,” said Stover, who won a Super Bowl ring with the 2000-01 Baltimore Ravens. “He understood the technique and the philosophy. You’re a point-maker, you change the game. 

“You’re like a sniper in the Army. Nobody sees you until they see you’ve got their back. You put points on the board, and become consistent and they know they can rely on you, that’s what makes you a valuable player.”

Barinowski realized early that he was going to dedicate himself to this possible future: to make sacrifices, and strive to be his absolute best.

“When I first started getting recruited, I realized I have potential for this,” he said. “God gave me this gift, and I love football. There’s definitely more to life than that, but it’s something I want to focus on and pursue and give it my all.”

He’s also wary of outside logic: Of course you have a leg up, you had an NFL kicker as a (volunteer) coach.

“But for me, dude, I’m going to put in the work,” Barinowski said. “Mr. Stover taught me so much, of course, but at the end of the day you have to put in the work.”

    RYDER BARINOWSKI, right, stands with former NFL kicker Matt Stover before a Montana Grizzlies football game last fall. (photo courtesy of Bear Barinowski)
 
 



    Whitefish High School senior Ryder Barinowski signs to play football at Montana Tech in Butte. (Eden Dias photo)