CHARLOTTESVILLE — On the eve of national signing day, few people in the UVa football office are as busy as Matt Barnhart.
He’s the Cavaliers’ assistant recruiting coordinator, and the 16 or so letters of intent faxed in Wednesday will represent the culmination of more than a year’s work by Barnhart and the rest of the football staff.
Barnhart, 28, stopped by University Hall on Tuesday afternoon for a quick visit. VirginiaSports.com likes to check in periodically with members of the athletics department who play vital roles while operating outside of the public eye, and here’s a little about one of the football program’s unsung heroes:
Hometown: Born in Bethesda, Md., where his father, a heart surgeon, was working at the National Institutes of Health, Barnhart spent most of his childhood in Virginia Beach.
Education: A graduate of Norfolk Academy, Barnhart earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Bridgewater College in 2003 and a master’s in athletic administration from McDaniel College (formerly Western Maryland) in 2005. He played on the tennis team at Bridgewater, where he also started (and then edited) the school newspaper, the Veritas, and launched a website devoted to Bridgewater football.
Family: Barnhart’s wife, Lauren, is a graduate student in UVa’s nursing school. Already a registered nurse, she’s studying to become a nurse practitioner.
Career path: After getting his master’s, Barnhart returned to Bridgewater as an assistant sports information director. In addition to those duties, he spent a lot of time working with Bridgewater football coach Mike Clark and “helping put together recruiting materials,” Barnhart says. “Doing what I do here, but on a much smaller level.” In August 2008, he made the jump from Division III to Division I, accepting a job on then-coach Al Groh’s staff at UVa. During the 2008 and ’09 seasons, Barnhart worked closely with recruiting coordinator Bob Price, also Virginia’s tight ends coach. On Mike London’s staff, the recruiting coordinator is Jeff Hanson, who also coaches the defensive line.
Well-oiled machine: A dozen students help with bulk mailings and other aspects of UVa’s recruiting operation. And then there’s Roxann Markey, whose desk is across from Barnhart’s in the office they share at the McCue Center. Markey is Virginia’s administrative assistant for recruiting, and she preceded Barnhart on Groh’s staff. “I definitely could not do it without her,” Barnhart says. “When I got here in 2008, she was able to teach me everything I know.”
Rules and regulations: The NCAA allows Barnhart to send e-mails and regular mail to prospects, but he can’t call or text them (though he can receive calls and texts from them). He communicates regularly with high school guidance counselors, from whom he gets prospects’ transcripts. Now that London has completed his staff with the hiring of Scott Wachenheim as tight ends coach, Barnhart is back in his former role with its customary restrictions. During the transition from Groh’s staff to London’s, however, Barnhart’s status was changed to that of a coach, and he was allowed to contact prospects by phone.
24/7: This is the busiest time of year for Barnhart, with “signing day and making sure kids are eligible with the NCAA and getting all the stuff sent to [UVa] admissions.” Also, many prospects take their official visits in January, and Barnhart is charged with making sure those weekends come off as planned. He helps schedule the visits and come up with the itineraries, communicates with prospects and their coaches, and attends the various functions during the weekend. Such weekends start on Friday morning for him and end Sunday evening when the staff meets to discuss how things went with the prospects. Barnhart also helps plan the Cavaliers’ junior days — unofficial visits by groups of 11th-graders.
Middle man: Barnhart acts as a liaison between recruits and UVa coaches, recruits and UVa’s compliance office, recruits and athletics director Craig Littlepage, recruits and Virginia’s academic advisors for football, recruits and UVa admissions, and recruits and the NCAA Eligibility Center. Once the recruits are declared eligible by the NCAA and officially admitted to UVa, Barnhart’s focus turns to the next class.
On the radar: Each fall, UVa contacts high schools to request transcripts for prospects who are in the 11th grade. In 2009, Barnhart says, Virginia got about 300 transcripts back. Those players are being tracked in the Class of 2011 data base, from which names are regularly added and deleted.
Off the clock: “I used to have hobbies before I started working here,” Barnhart says with a smile. The demands of the job notwithstanding, he still manages to play tennis and poker and spend quality time with his wife and their golden retriever, Gracie.
Job satisfaction: Barnhart has no desire to become a coach, but the administrative side of athletes appeals to him. And he enjoys building relationships with the coaches, administrators and players with whom he has regular contact. The best part of his job? “I just like the feeling I get when I know that what I’ve produced or organized helps a coach with what he’s doing,” Barnhart says. “Whatever I can do to take a load off the shoulders of the coaches. It’s gratifying when a coach says thanks.”
Signing day: VirginiaSports.com is the place to check Wednesday for updates on the Cavaliers’ football recruits. Video bios of and other information about the players will be posted as their letters of intent come in.