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By LARRY VAUGHT
He faced unrealistic expectations from many, changing defenses almost every week and scrutiny on every throw/play from University of Kentucky fans and media members. Yet Conner quarterback Drew Barker said he had a “great time” his senior season.
“I did not feel any nerves. I just played football,” said Barker, who signed his institutional financial aid agreement Thursday and will enroll at UK in January. “Obviously, there were a lot of eyes watching me, but on the field I was just playing. I think I got a lot better this year, too. I was leaps and bounds better from last year when my passing and accuracy and footwork. Even a quicker release.”
Barker’s father, Terry, knew there was a “lot of pressure” on his son because of his early commitment to UK and high national ranking.
“There was a lot of scrutiny on his statistics every week. It seemed every week people were attacking him (on social media) and saying this kid and that kid is better than you. People were always trying to measure him against other player’s performances,” Terry Barker said. “It wore him down at times, but he has a strong personality. He knew he was not a robot and could not have a great game every night.
“But I thought he handled it well. Everywhere he went, eyes were on him. The South Oldham game, he missed the whole week of practice for his grandmother’s funeral in Virginia and I did not think he had a bad game. We lost by two (points) and he was really criticized. Same with our playoff loss at Anderson County. But he stays pretty consistent. Not a lot of peaks and valleys with him. He had a good season.”
Good season? Barker completed 255 of 317 passes for 2,702 yards and 34 scores. He ran for 1,421 yards and nine scores. He ended his career completing 526 of 798 passes for 6,264 yards and 62 scores and ran for 3,931 yards and 51 touchdowns.
“If he ever did feel the pressure, it never showed,” Conner coach James Trosper said. “Everybody can be a critic. The last game he was 6-for-23 passing, but we had a lot of drops. But he does not get rattled. He excels under pressure. One of the best games he had was when (Kentucky) coach (Mark) Stoops and (offensive coordinator) Neal Brown were on the sideline. He had one of his best games against Scott, which only had one loss.
“He’s been at that national level for a long time. He did AAU basketball and played in front of 10,000 to 15,000 fans in Las Vegas. He’s been through fire. You can just look at his numbers and see how he handled the pressure. Just throw his stats up and it speaks for itself.
“He got a lot better this year, too. He understood schemes and coverages. Two years ago he rushed for more yards. He had a better idea of defensive trends and see how his passing/rushing stats flipped this year. He commanded the passing game more than the running game.”
Trosper said teams tried to give Conner “different looks every week” from what they had been using.
“We had to figure out what teams were giving us and what they were taking away,” Trosper said. “As much film as he watched, the tough part was showing up on Friday night and seeing something different from what we had seen on film. But it was a great experience for him and will really help at the next level.”
Barker said he got used to linebackers “spying” on him to stop his runs and scrambling.
“Using a basketball reference, it was often like a box-and-one. Teams would contain everyone and somebody would always follow me,” Trosper said. “We had to adjust every week. And that will help me in college. I got the hang of what to do and did not let the changes bother me week to week.”