UK football notebook: Incoming freshmen make their own recruiting pitches

Herald-Leader Staff WriterJune 1, 2013 

Conner High School quarterback Drew Barker announced his commitment to the University of Kentucky at Conner High School in Hebron, Ky., on May 10, 2013. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff

PABLO ALCALA — Lexington Herald-Leader Buy Photo

When Drew Barker's quarterbacking career is over, he probably won't have trouble finding a job as a recruiting coordinator.

Barker, a four-star quarterback who committed to Kentucky on May 10, is getting plenty of experience at the position.

The Conner High School quarterback is the brains behind the Twitter account @UK2014Class.

The account, which had more than 7,100 followers as of Saturday afternoon, was created to help increase fan interaction with potential recruits.

Barker admits he stole the idea from Tennessee and Ohio State, which used similar accounts when they were recruiting him.

"I thought it was a really good tool to help get recruits and help bring attention to the program," Barker said on Friday, a day before he participated in the Columbus Elite 11 Super Regional Quarterback Camp.

Kentucky's nine current commitments for 2014 all have the username and password to the Twitter account and are actively using it to woo some other big-name players to UK.

"It's really cool," Barker said. "Great players want to play with great players and I'm just trying to get the best players here possible. So far, we're doing a pretty good job."

So far, UK is up to the 12th-ranked recruiting class in the country, according to Rivals.com.

And the Cats' nine verbal commitments aren't done yet.

To Braxton Berrios, an uncommitted four-star wide receiver out of Raleigh, N.C., the account recently tweeted: "Who's ready to see (Berrios) suit up in the blue&white?!"

To Mike Edwards, a three-star safety out of Cincinnati, and Darius West, a four-star safety from Lima, Ohio, the account urged: "don't listen to those other lame fans... You KNOW where you belong... #KentuckyEffect"

Having the fans interact with recruits on Twitter has been a great way to sway some players, Barker said.

"People blow up your Twitter and stuff," he said. "Big Blue Nation has a great fan base and they all definitely like that and the fan base is definitely one of the best in the nation. They're as big a part in this as we are right now. It really helps."

It definitely got the attention of Johnnie Dixon, a four-star wide receiver from West Palm Beach, Fla., who is rated No. 20 in the nation at his position by Rivals.

"#BBN showing mad love right now," Dixon tweeted earlier this week.

Barker isn't just planning to be a recruiter via Twitter, he's already angling to help the Cats land Artavis Scott, a four-star wide receiver from Tarpon Springs, Fla.

The future Kentucky quarterback has been working back channels to get Scott, rated the 11th best wide receiver in the nation, into Kentucky blue and white.

"I was talking to the people running (the upcoming Rivals Five-Star Camp) and I kind of worked out a deal where I could room with this wide receiver from Florida that I've recruited quite a bit," Barker said of Scott. "I've been friends with him for a while. He's really good, so we're rooming together. That will be good."

Barker didn't rule out writing "Come to UK" on every ball he threw to an uncommitted receiver at the elite camp in early June.

"I'm thinking about some creative stuff. I haven't decided all I'm going to do yet, but I'll definitely have a couple tricks."

So far his latest trick by creating the Twitter account has been successful.

"It's a really cool thing to help us bond and meet other recruits and build friendships," he said.

It also has created a sense of team and unity for Kentucky's nine verbal commitments so far.

"As most people know, football recruiting goes all the way down to when they sign, so it's definitely a big part of getting us all to stay united and we're all feeling the love and the good vibes and stuff, that way no one is thinking about going anywhere else."

Rookie whirlwind

May was a whirlwind month for former Kentucky quarterback Morgan Newton, who worked out for the New York Giants at tight end as an undrafted free agent, then got cut by the Giants before being signed by the Giants and getting cut again late this week.

When I caught up with the former UK player early last week (before he was cut the second time) Newton described how he went from law firm intern to Giants rookie in one day.

The first time he was cut after rookie mini-camp, he said he felt fine about it.

"I gave it my shot," Newton said on Tuesday afternoon. "I'll go home and like thousands of other people, I'll go find a job and just prepare for law school."

So he started his internship at Lexington law firm Kinkead & Stilz on a Monday. Three days later, he was in a conference room listening to a deposition when his phone blew up with calls from his agent and his father.

Later that night he was on a plane to New Jersey to join his fellow rookies. But 13 days into his pro career, Newton was cut again.

It's likely he will end up back at Kinkead & Stilz and then go onto UK Law School in the fall as he had planned initially. Newton said the firm had been great about letting him embrace his NFL opportunity.

"They've been really, really awesome," said Newton, who is pondering a career in sports or business law. "They've been extremely supportive."

That's the ticket

Kentucky is just 574 tickets away from matching its season ticket sales total from last season.

As of Thursday this week, UK reported it had sold 37,901 season tickets. A bulk of those (35,342) came as season ticket renewals in April, but overall sales have been steady since then.

Last season, UK sold just 38,475 season tickets and struggled in attendance, averaging a reported 49,691 in seven games, its lowest average attendance since 1996.

Kentucky actually averaged 31,203, according to its attendance figures acquired by the Herald-Leader during the season.

UK only had one game (43,174 versus Western Kentucky) that had a higher attendance than the season tickets already sold for next season.

In January, Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said the ceiling for season ticket sales was at 48,000 "because of the way visiting ticket allotments and student ticket allotments, we're sort of sealed off at that number," which means UK is roughly 10,000 away from hitting that mark.

Tickets can be purchased at ukfootballtix.com or by calling the ticket office at (800) 928-2287.

Small stadium update

There hasn't been much movement on the Commonwealth Stadium renovation project just yet. Officials initially said the $110 million football facilities upgrade was going to begin in the fall, but a proposed schedule on the UK website indicates it won't get going until Dec. 1, the day after the Cats' final home game against Tennessee.

According to the proposed schedule, the final date for an architectural/engineering firm to submit its proposal to UK was March 8, but UK spokesman Jay Blanton said on Friday that there is no plan in place yet.

The proposed schedule on UK's website set a date of April 15 for "design begins" and Sept. 13 for the release of the initial bid package.

A Cat from the past

Briefly last summer, I started an occasional series about former UK players and where they are now.

This week, I caught up with former Kentucky multi-purpose player Anthony "Champ" Kelly (1998-2001) about a football camp he's having in Lexington in a couple of weeks. (I'll have a more on that in next week's notebook.)

The former UK wide receiver is going on his seventh season with the Denver Broncos and his fourth season as the team's assistant director of pro personnel.

In his job, he helps evaluate the talent on other NFL teams for trades and cuts. Kelly also helps with advance scouting, often traveling to the opponents' game the week before they play the Broncos. He gathers information and submits a report to the coaching staff to help it game plan.

"I'm a country kid who was born on the dirt roads from a town with a population of 500," Kelly said. "So to say you came from a place where your hometown had 500 people ... to sitting in a full stadium every week is incredible."

Kelly said it's been "awesome to be a part of what's going on here now.

"I'm excited about the future of the Denver Broncos and getting a chance to work with a guy like (Executive Vice President of Football Operations) John Elway on a daily basis and being with an owner like Pat Bowlen is an awesome experience."

By the way, if you know of a former UK player doing something special or interesting or want to know what happened to a Cat from the past, please contact me. Here's how:

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Email: jsmith3@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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