Kicking It Into Overtime

by May 28, 2024North Brunswick, People, Sports

Retired NFL placekicker Connor Barth is busy with the next chapters of his life in Wrightsville Beach.

Retired NFL placekicker Connor Barth, who grew up in Wilmington, has returned to the area and is pursuing different career directions and passions off the football field. The 37-year-old, self-employed entrepreneur is also a developer, photographer and investor in the locally owned Blue Shark Vodka, which is making waves nationwide.

“My parents were very adamant about making sure football wasn’t my only outlet and making sure I was well-rounded,” Barth says.

Barth bought a beach house in Wrightsville Beach in 2014 when he was still playing for the NFL. After retirement from football, he discovered his creative side. Walking on the beach one day, he thought how nice the landscape is and decided to take some photos.

“I picked up my first drone and started playing with it, and thought I had a natural eye for different things and started doing that,” he says.

Born in Arlington, Virginia, Barth has always had a knack for picking up on things naturally and quickly. The Barth family moved from Arlington to Memphis, Tennessee, when Barth was going into kindergarten and moved again to Wilmington in 1997, when Barth was going into sixth grade and his dad started a new job as a professor at UNC Wilmington.

“Dad was interviewing at UNC Charlotte and UNC Wilmington and, no offense to Charlotte, but I’m very glad that we chose Wilmington because there’s just something special about being able to get up and be 10 minutes from
the beach,” Barth says. “And I think that, in the long run, it also helped my career with football — with [Wilmington] being more low-key and laidback [and less stressful] than being in the bigger city.”

Wrightsville Beach NC Connor Barth

Barth’s first sports love was not football. Growing up, he was big into baseball, but got burnt out, and soccer, but realized he was not quite good enough to play in Europe someday for the big bucks. He transferred his strong leg to being a kicker on the Hoggard High School football team freshman year.

“I was watching a Notre Dame football game with my dad, and I saw the kicker and I was like, ‘Man, I bet I could do that,’” he says. “And it just so happened that my freshman year, when I was playing soccer, the football team was looking for a kicker because, at the time, they had a wide receiver kicking.”

At the coaches’ nudging, Barth gave up soccer at that point to solely focus on football. He started going to some kicking camps, did well and got moved up to varsity at the end of his freshman year. In 2004 Barth got a full scholarship to UNC Chapel Hill in 2004 — a decision he made with the help of advice from legendary UNC football coach Bill Dooley, who was living back in Wilmington in his retirement.

“He was in my ear telling me, ‘Hey, you need to stay local, go to your in-state school,” Barth says.

While at UNC Chapel Hill, where he graduated with a degree in communications, Barth had a strong run. He was named second-team freshman All-America by the Rivals.com recruiting network and was an honorable-mention all-ACC member. He made 14 of 18 field goals and 35 of 37 extra point attempts in 2004 and is well known for a 42-yard game-winning field goal at the buzzer versus Miami.

Connor Barth Developer Wrightsville Beach

Because of his leg strength and consistency, Barth started to hear the buzz from NFL agents in his junior and senior years. Although he did not get drafted, he signed with the Kansas City Chiefs as a priority free agent in 2008. From there, he played with the Miami Dolphins for a year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the next six years, the Denver Broncos, New Orleans Saints and the Chicago Bears, where he ended his 10-year career in the NFL.

“The problem was, I feel like I always got caught in between new coaches and new general managers, so I could never get consistency and a solid foundation,” Barth says.

After retirement, Barth returned to his beach house on Wrightsville Beach.

His surfer friends sparked his interest in shooting photos of them surfing, so he bought a Nikon camera with underwater housing.

He also continued flipping houses, a side hustle he had started in 2016 while still in the NFL. That evolved into working with a local builder to buy land and design homes with his own footprint and floor plan.  They have completed their third waterfront project together in the Wilmington area.

Photographer Connor Barth NFL Retired

“It’s been a lot of fun to be able to see the process of having a vision and designing and then seeing a family move in and be happy,” Barth says. “What’s also cool is that I don’t use any interior designers. I pick out every single fixture and all of the colors and everything.”

In his spare time, Barth serves as an investor in Wilmington-based, family-owned Blue Shark Vodka, which began production in 2019 by local owner Mark Bloomquist.

Bloomquist and his daughter, Brooke, wanted to create a vodka so smooth that it mirrored their deep-sea diving adventures. Blue Shark Vodka was also inspired by Bloomquist’s naval career and the family’s love of the ocean, marine life and life on Wrightsville Beach. The company is helping conserve blue sharks by partnering with research organizations that tag blues around the Atlantic.

“I went to Neptune’s Beach Bar, and I’m a vodka drinker, and my buddy, who was the bartender, told me I needed to try this local vodka called Blue Shark,” Barth says. “We put it on some ice, and I was immediately blown away by just the quality and taste. I said, ‘I’ll drink this over Ketel One all day.’”

Barth and Bloomquist met over coffee, and Barth first became a member of the advisory board before his current role as an investor. He says he fell in love with the brand, the product and the local “secret” ingredient, sweet Carolina corn grown in Polk County, North Carolina. Today, Blue Shark Vodka is available throughout the Southeast, in Las Vegas and in Southern California and is sweeping up awards along the way in the competitive market. Look for tequila and more products to join the line.

Blue Shark Vodka

When Barth is not juggling his businesses, he is often on the waters around Wrightsville Beach by way of his boat or paddleboard, or volunteering. He is vice chair of the Bill Dooley Educational Foundation, which raises funds for scholarships for local athletes. The organization just started a scholarship in Barth’s name. He also serves on the advisory board for Family Promise of the Lower Cape Fear and runs a free kicking camp with his brother every year.

Photography by Matt McGraw