By LARRY VAUGHT
Even for Drew Barker, national signing day at Kentucky was “pretty awesome and pretty cool.”
The Conner quarterback, one of six players ranked among the nation’s top 300 recruits in UK’s signing class, is already enrolled in school and going through offseason workouts with his new teammates. Still for the player who helped coach Mark Stoops put together and keep a top 20 recruiting class intact, he was thrilled that everyone in the class officially signed with UK Wednesday.
“A lot of people were criticizing the class when a lot of us committed in the summer and a lot were saying UK would not keep guys and bigger schools would take them,” Barker said. “We all stuck together and no one wavered except one person. That shows a big commitment to the university and I really proud to see that.”
He said only a couple of players in the signing class took visits even after they committed.
“They would say they were 100 percent committed but if you take visits, I was not so sure. I am glad everybody stuck together,” Barker said.
Barker knew after a 2-10 season in 2012 that cost Joker Phillips his job at UK and then a 2-10 season in coach Mark Stoops’ first season that it was important for him to help recruiting.
“Kentucky has gone through a rough patch the last few years. If I was coming here, I wanted to bring other top guys with me,” Barker said. “I said when I committed we would have a top 10, top 15 class. It is pretty awesome and I am excited to play with all these guys.”
Barker, an honor roll student, completed 65.9 percent of his passes during his high school career for 6,264 yards and 62 touchdowns and ran for 3,931 yards and 51 scores. He threw for 2,671 yards and 34 scores as a senior.
He admitted he had mixed feelings watching UK struggle last year even though it was obvious the team needed help from the 2014 recruiting class.
“I felt part of the team because I had committed and knew guys on the team,” Barker said. “It was tough to watch. But I know the right coaches are in place here and have the right plan. I think we can really take big strides. (Last year) It was motivating because no one likes losing. I hate losing more than I like winning.”
That feeling is one of many reasons Stoops is glad to have Barker at UK.
“It was very important (to sign him) because Drew is one of the top players in the state along with being a national recruit. It’s very important to get great players from your home state. Not only is he an Elite 11 quarterback he also has the leadership skills we look for in a quarterback,” Stoops said.
Ohio receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass, another ESPN top 300 recruit and the highest ranked receiver ever to sign with UK, said he was at Kentucky mainly due to Barker and though the other four receivers in the signing class felt the same.
“I wanted to come in with a good, smart quarterback, and we got him,” Snodgrass said. “He has a nice touch on his balls and lot of velocity.”
Barker, who picked UK over South Carolina and Tennessee, likes the receivers UK added.
“Thaddeus is already here (on campus). He is in that mid range, not too tall but not too small. You are not going to be able to jam him (at the line). Good speed, good route runner, great hands,” Barker said. “T.V. (Williams) is small, but plays with a chip on his shoulder because of all the talk about how small he is. He is super fast, one of the fastest I have seen, and has great hands.
“I think it is a toss up between Dorian Baker and Garrett Johnson to who is the most underrated in the country. Dorian is huge and looks ready to play now. Possession receiver. Garrett led south Florida in receiving yards. Other schools tried to come in on home. Blake Bone is 6-5, a big possession receiver. It’s going to be awesome with all of them.”
Barker, who led two touchdown drives in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl last month, wants to be the one throwing the ball to them next season, too. He’ll be one of five quarterbacks competing in spring practice to see who emerges No. 1.
“I came here to play. That’s why I came early also to get an opportunity to get workouts, get the playbook. I cam here to play and try to win the job this spring going into the summer,” Barker said.
He got to even get advice from former UK quarterback Tim Couch, a one-time No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.
“It was pretty cool (talking to him). It was the first time I had met him since I had committed. It was pretty cool to sit down and talk to him. Hopefully one day I will be in the same position as him down the road. He’s a great guy and gave me a few tips on how to handle things. He told me to reach out to him any time,” Barker said.
Barker could even joke that he was no longer mad at John Hardin defensive tackle Matt Elam, who announced last week he would play at UK and not Alabama. He originally was supposed to have made his decision at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl but delayed it for three weeks.
“I kind of did (get frustrated) at the Army game but I was selfish and did get mad. The way it was set up, they wanted him to tell them before and he did not want to do that,” Barker said. “It was kind of selfish of me to get mad. But we got the end result we all wanted. I’m glad he is part of the class and looking forward to having him because we have been friends for a while.”
Elam’s decision to pick UK over Alabama along with Louisville lineman Lloyd Tubman signing with UK over Penn State Wednesday were just two more major recruiting wins for UK.
Barker said he knows it’s hard for those outside Kentucky to understand how a team coming off consecutive 2-10 seasons could have a top 20 recruiting class.
“I would just say spend a day here with coaches and get an inside look. From the outside, it does look strange,” Barker said. “The last two years they have won four games and now Stoops has a great class.”
Barker said there was a definite difference in the “family” atmosphere at Kentucky from other schools he visited where some coaches, but not all, would know who he was.
“It just a culture change,” he said.
Now Barker and four other high school players in this recruiting class along with two junior college signees are on campus and trying to help change the culture on the field, too.
“I think they all have a really good work ethic. That is important,” Barker said of the spring semester additions. “All are good people of character. Just really good guys on and off the field. We are in there getting extra work in just like the older guys. It’s just really cool and I thank the guys already here for taking us under their wings.”