He’s a four-star quarterback who has impressed recruiting analysts and will be one of the leading contenders for Kentucky’s Mr. Football honors next season. Yet Kentucky was not one of the 10 schools that had offered Conner’s Drew Barker a scholarship until offensive coordinator Neal Brown changed that after watching Barker throw during a recent morning workout.
“It’s not like he has just surfaced as a top quarterback. Louisville offered him last spring. He has 10 other others. It’s just that Kentucky finally offered and that got his name out more in the state,” Conner coach David Trosper said. “The old Kentucky staff did not offer him. They recruited him just a little bit, but did not offer even though Rivals.com ranked him very highly and he had offers from Cincinnati, Western Kentucky, Purdue, Illinois, North Carolina, Louisiana Tech and South Carolina.”
Barker, ranked among the nation’s top 100 juniors in some recruiting services, has added offers from Vanderbilt, Miami and Mississippi since he got his UK offer and now has 14 scholarship offers.
Trosper thinks Barker was a bit miffed UK’s previous staff did not show more interest in him, but that will not work against new coach Mark Stoops and Brown.
“He does know Neal Brown’s background and how he fits in with what he does,” Trosper said. “With the previous staff, he probably had a little different feeling that the home state school did not offer a scholarship. But now he definitely has an interest. He has what they like and we’ll see what happens. I think after signing date (Feb. 6) you will see business pick up even more with Drew.
Barker said not being recruited by former UK¿coach Joker Phillips did leave a “bad taste in my mouth” based on the offers and interest he got from Louisville and Western Kentucky.
“When the new staff came in, I did not really think I liked Kentucky. Then they got in touch and I called them and we talked,” Barker said. “The first thing they told me was not to hold grudges and come with an open mind to visit. It’s a brand new staff and new people. They knew the situation with me. They just wanted me to come down with an open mind. I¿came and left impressed and definitely interested in Kentucky.”
Barker works out daily before school throwing to receivers. Brown came to watch a January workout and didn’t need long to tell Trosper that Barker was the type of quarterback he liked to have run his offense.
“I think he fits exactly what Neal ran at Texas Tech,” Trosper said. “Neal had been impressed with what he had seen on film already. There’s no doubt he is a player. He rushed for over 1,400 yards and threw for over 2,000 last year. He is a combination type guy that can run and throw. He does a lot of checks at the line.
“We run the spread and he’s very versatile. He probably won’t be quite that way in college. He is not a sprinter, but he runs a 4.7 (second 40-yard dash). He’s 6-4, 215 now and will be 240 or 250 pounds in a few years with the same speed. He is a broad-shouldered kid and can cause a lot of problems for defenses.”
Trosper said Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson told him Barker has the “best release he has seen in 21 years of coaching” and Trosper says the “common person” can’t stand 10 yards away from Barker and catch his ball.
“He really peppers it. It comes out of his hand hot. He has that gift,” Trosper said. “He has a tight, compact release. That’s the reason the big dogs like him. He throws a pretty ball.”
Barker had met Brown when he went to Kentucky for an unofficial visit to see a basketball game. Before that, the two had talked on the phone often. Barker was at UK’s first Junior Day and even posted pictures of himself in the Kentucky dressing room wearing UK jerseys.
“We have a good understanding of each other, but it was good to meet coach Brown in person the first time. That’s going to be a big part of my whole college decision. Just the people you will be around is important. He could be coaching me the next four or five years,” Barker said. “It’s big to have a good relationship and really know the guy who will coach you.
“I thought he was genuine and very straight forward. Some guys come off like used car salesmen trying to make their points. He seemed very genuine and tells it like it is. I really liked him.”
Brown is only 32, but Barker says age is no factor.
“That didn’t really even come to my mind. Younger coaches, if anything, tend to have more energy and fire. They can be a little crazy and run around more, and that’s kind of cool,” Barker laughed and said. “I¿could tell all the coaches at Kentucky were hungry and want to get on the right track and the program turned around.”
Barker thinks the best part of his game, and something he says is translating more to the NFL, is his ability to be elusive.
“I can run around and make the defense play 11 on 11 and account for the quarterback,” Barker said. “If you have to worry about the quarterback running, it is a whole different game and lot harder for the defense to defense. My ability to run is one of my biggest assets. It helps me in the passing game. If a defense loads up the box for the run, I¿just throw on them. If they play back, I tuck the ball and run.”
Last season Barker ran 218 times for 1,422 yards and 18 touchdowns and completed 140 of 225 passes for 2,067 yards and 22 scores with just seven interceptions. As a sophomore in 2011, he ran for 1,371 yards and 22 scores on 212 carries and completed 93 of 181 passes for 1,009 yards and four scores. He got in four games as a freshman and rushed for 178 yards and one score and threw for 28 yards by completing nine of 15 passes. For his career, he’s rushed for 2,971 yards and 41 touchdowns and thrown for 3,104 yards and 26 scores.
Barker, who also starts on the basketball team, is a tireless worker. He started his pre-school workouts as a sophomore.
“At first, I really didn’t like it. You have to adjust to waking up and coming in at 6 a.m. every morning. But I really embrace it now,” Barker said. “Nobody has to push me. Sometimes my parents ask me why I just don’t sleep in. But I’ve got to go in and work out and lift and throw whether it is in the gym or outside. I want to get better. If you are not working, somebody else is.”
Barker was interested in the signees various schools had earlier this month, but said what happened then will not “sway” his college choice.
“I don’t have top set of schools.¿I¿am going to take visits in the spring and after that I will have a pretty good idea and understanding of what my top schools will be,” the Conner quarterback said. “I plan to make a decision in late April or early May. I want to go to spring practice, I will make a spring game or two.
“If I don’t know what my decision should be in April or May, then I won’t make it. I am not going to rush. I just want to make sure I am going to the right school and right place for me. I hopefully can do that early and then help recruit other players.”
Barker certainly understands the value of social media and how to use it to interact with others. When he was a freshman, he contacted various media members about his career and invited calls to talk about his play. He said he felt he had to do that because most attention in northern Kentucky was focused on Patrick Towles of Highlands and Zeke Pike of Dixie Heights, two older quarterbacks who were both Division I¿signees.
“I saw them getting all those offers. Before that, I wasn’t even planning on playing college football. It was maybe in the back of my head, but I saw the attention they were getting and thought maybe I should also try to get my name out there for people to watch,” Barker said. “I wanted to get a little buzz going about me.
“I sent out film to a ton of people. I¿probably sent film to over 300 people by myself. Now it’s really cool to see how this has all worked out. Instead of me pursuing attention, schools are now pursuing me. It is definitely a blessing to have all these opportunities to play college football. I could never have expected all of this, but I¿am enjoying it very much.”