During what became Kentucky’s epic football upset of Louisville on Nov. 26, Terry Barker had an enhanced viewing experience.
Terry’s son, Drew Barker, began 2016 as UK’s starting quarterback. The Conner High School product made it through three starts before the effects of a back injury ended his season.
After an attempt to rehabilitate through non-surgical means failed, Barker underwent surgery on the Tuesday before the Kentucky-Louisville football game. So for the Cats-Cards grudgefest, a recovering Barker was planted on the family couch — along with a script of UK’s offensive plays.
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“Drew would be like, ‘They’re going Ryan Timmons here or Jeff Badet there.’ I never watched a football game before with someone who could tell you exactly what was going to happen before it happened. It was pretty cool.”
For father and son, it was a pleasant shared experience at the end of a football season filled with adversity.
Over the first half of the first game of 2016, a Kentucky product starting at QB for UK lived a shared dream with his family. At the season opener against Southern Mississippi, “we had a big tailgate, and we were grilling,” Terry Barker recalled. “Everyone was really excited.”
That night, Drew Barker threw for 287 yards and four touchdowns in the first half as Kentucky took a 35-17 halftime lead.
“It almost seemed like magic,” Terry Barker said. “This was a kid who had been playing football since he was 6. He’d always talked about being a Division I football player, an SEC football player. As a parent, you were sitting there watching your child live out his dream.”
The dream was headed for a rude interruption.
Barker lost two fumbles and threw an interception as Southern Miss outscored Kentucky 27-0 in the second half to pull out a 44-35 victory.
Things got worse for the QB the following week in a 45-7 loss at Florida. On UK’s first play from scrimmage, Alex Anzalone, a rugged 6-foot-3, 238-pound linebacker, roared untouched into the Kentucky backfield and found himself with a clean shot on the Wildcats quarterback.
Anzalone did not waste it.
“I don’t know whether that was the play where Drew got hurt or whether it just exacerbated something that already existed,” Terry Barker said. “But, to me, Drew didn’t look right from that play (forward).”
The redshirt sophomore QB tried to go the next week against New Mexico State, but lasted only one series. Though Drew Barker’s malady would ultimately be termed a back injury, his father says the pain that sidelined him was in his right leg.
“Look, I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one on TV,” Terry Barker joked. “But, apparently there is a nerve tree that runs out of the right side of your spine down to your right leg and one that runs out of the left side down to your left leg. And there was something putting pressure on Drew’s right side (nerves) that was causing his (right) leg to really hurt.”
The initial plan was to rehabilitate the injury without surgery. “Drew started out believing he would be back on the field this year,” Terry Barker said.
That didn’t happen.
“I think it’s fair to say (Drew’s) leg hurt every day,” Terry Barker said. “Some days, it hurt more than others. In some ways, he kind of got used to it hurting. But, some days, just doing what a college student has to do — walking to class, sitting in class, carrying a book bag — was really painful for him.”
That explains why, on the same day Dr. R. Carter Cassidy, a UK orthopedic surgeon, performed surgery on Drew Barker’s back, the quarterback was raising his right leg in the air with glee.
“Because it didn’t hurt anymore,” Terry Barker said. “As back surgeries go, this was at the lower level in terms of risk. They didn’t have to put anything in and they didn’t have to take anything out. They just relieved that pressure.”
While Drew Barker waited for his leg to stop aching, his football team got well.
With junior-college transfer Stephen Johnson stepping in at quarterback, Mark Stoops’ Cats found an offensive identity behind running backs Boom Williams and Benny Snell and a physical offensive line.
“It was hard for Drew not to be out there, so in that way it’s been a tough football season,” Terry Barker said. “But Drew was really happy for his teammates.”
Terry Barker said his son hopes to start throwing the football and doing some running in January. “Again, I’m not a doctor, but I would guess he might have some limited (participation) in spring practice and, hopefully, be ready to go by fall,” Terry Barker says.
However you feel philosophically about players not losing starting jobs to injury, it’s hard to conceive of Johnson not beginning 2017 as UK’s starting quarterback, especially after he outdueled likely Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson in the victory over Louisville.
“Stephen’s done great, especially in the Louisville game,” Terry Barker said. “But it’s like I told Drew, ‘Even when it’s not always apparent on the front end, things happen for a reason.’ Drew is as determined a kid as I’ve ever been around. He’s going to come back and compete.”
Kentucky vs. Georgia Tech
What: TaxSlayer Bowl
When: 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 31
Where: EverBank Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla.
Records: UK 7-5, Ga. Tech 8-4