If the recruiting pressure is bothering Conner quarterback Drew Barker, it doesn’t show. If anything, this has been what he’s wanted for years.
Barker is not only Kentucky’s top-ranked recruit, but he’s regarded as one of the nation’s best prep quarterbacks. He’s being heavily courted by South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, a quarterback guru, along with Tennessee coach Butch Jones, who offered Barker a scholarship when he was the coach at Cincinnati.
Kentucky? Well, he’s simply the No. 1 target for offensive coordinator Neal Brown.
“I kind of always wanted it to be like this with all this recruiting. That’s why I was trying to get my name out like I was a few years ago when nobody knew me,” Barker said. “Sometimes it gets tiring. Not the schools or coaches, but every time you visit a bunch of people are calling you to ask about it. That is probably one thing that there is a little too much of, and I would like a break from that. But I’ve just tried to embrace it all. It’s always been a dream and goal to be in this position.”
Barker was at Kentucky’s practice Monday and was expected to be back again today. He’s staying in Lexington tonight and Saturday night not only to see the Blue-White game, but to evaluate other parts of the UK program, just as he did on two-night unofficial visits to South Carolina and Tennessee.
“I want to make sure I give everybody a fair shot,” he said. “I will probably make my college choice the first part of May. I am about 95 percent sure that is when it will be.”
That’s why this weekend is so important for Kentucky. Sure, Brown is evaluating quarterbacks now to pick Kentucky’s starter for next season, but this could the weekend that convinces Barker to become a Wildcat.
“I am really looking for a home away from home,” Barker said. “I just want to make sure which school is the best fit academically, socially and athletically. After I visit UK this weekend, I will have a huge gauge on where I kind of want to go. Then I will sit down with my parents and go over the pros and cons of each school.”
The pros at South Carolina start with a “great relationship” with Spurrier and his staff. “But I like everything about it. I like how it feels. It feels very comfortable and could be my home for four or five years. The players make it feel like a family environment. It’s not all about just the fit with the coaches,” he said.
South Carolina has also been winning — something Kentucky and Tennessee have not been doing.
“I would not say that would make or break my decision, but it is good to know if I decide to go there I would be joining a program that won 11 games the past three years and is right there competing for a SEC championship,” Barker said.
Barker visited Tennessee last summer before a coaching change was made after the year ended. When he returned after Jones took over, he “liked it more than I expected” and felt it was a place he could enjoy.
At Kentucky this weekend, he’ll be looking at “how the players interact with each other” during his stay.
“I want to see if there are little cliques or groups and how they all get along,” he said. “I also want to see the new staff in a game atmosphere. I have been to the other schools’ games and scrimmages. I want to see how that is like or different from Kentucky. I really can’t describe the feeling I am looking for, but if I get the feeling that is the place I want to go, then that is the place.”
Kentucky did its best last month to give Barker that feeling when he got 115 pieces of individual mail from the coaching staff in one day.
“It was pretty cool. My dad and I sat down and opened them all. There were about four letters from each coach, all hand-written. They were all different and it was cool just to sit and read them,” he said. “When I first opened the mailbox — I get a lot of mail each day — it was stuffed. I was like, ‘Wow. I wonder how many there are.’ I laid them all out on the table and counted 115. A lot of people thought all the letters were the same, but they were all different and unique. I saved them all, along with all my other letters.”
He’s also noticed the fan enthusiasm for Kentucky football, something he admits has impressed him.
“It is definitely cool seeing UK actually getting talked about for football instead of just basketball,” Barker said. “They are getting love and should be getting it. I don’t think UK is just a basketball school, and the new coaches have come in here and really created a buzz that is impressive.”