The first few times Drew Barker met with his new quarterback coach, there wasn’t much talk about football.
The discussions mostly were centered on Disney.
Darin Hinshaw asked the Cats quarterback what people think of when they ponder the Disney brand.
Most of the descriptors that Barker, who also happens to major in Integrated Strategic Communications with an emphasis in marketing and advertising, came up with were warm and fuzzy.
Positive and comforting.
It’s a small world, after all.
Now, what do people think of when they think about Drew Barker as a brand name, Hinshaw asked.
Maybe people think back to the incident his first year on campus involving an air pistol.
Maybe people think back to the widely circulated videos of a Richmond bar altercation or the quarterback getting punched in the head at an Eastern Kentucky dorm.
“It definitely wasn’t positive like I’d like it to be,” Barker said of his own brand assessment. “That’s no one’s fault but my own really.”
I don’t think I’ve changed as a person, just changed some values and my life, what comes first kind of thing.
The good news, Hinshaw told him, was that he had more than enough time to rewrite his story at Kentucky. He could get that fairytale, Disney kind of ending if he just made changes.
But unlike some Disney stories where woodland creatures help redecorate or mice scamper from their hole in the baseboard to tidy things up, this revamp fell squarely on Barker.
“I feel like I’ve taken the steps to change my brand,” Barker told the Herald-Leader on Friday before his afternoon workouts. “I feel like I’m taking steps in the right direction. I don’t plan on looking back.”
Most of those steps are things that the average Kentucky fan will never see. The redshirt sophomore got serious about school, earning a 3.75 grade-point average last semester. He’s on pace to graduate next August and is pondering an advanced degree.
“It wasn’t that hard to get back on track,” he said. “It was just doing the little things, paying attention, doing everything I’m supposed to be doing, not taking any days off or anything like that. I feel like I’ve translated that into the offseason with football as well.”
On the football side, it’s been about trying to be the first one in the weight room for workouts and the last one out. It’s been about sitting in the dark and studying film even when he wants to be doing other things.
It’s been about organizing workouts in the offseason, making sure every player knows where he should be when.
It started in January.
“It’s just crazy the first time I saw Drew to the Drew that’s there now,” wide receiver Jeff Badet said of Barker after the UK spring game in April. “He’s so much more of a leader now.”
After spring ball ended, it would’ve been easy for Barker to get off course a little bit. Coaches go out recruiting. Fewer eyes are watching him, keeping tabs on what he’s doing.
That’s happened before. It’s easy to slip up.
“I think twice before I do something, thinking about what the consequences will be,” Barker continued. “My parents always told me life is about choices, decisions and consequences, so if you make a good choice and a good decision, you’ll be rewarded for that.”
So even when his coaches aren’t watching, Barker said he’s trying to do the right things.
Turns out his coaches have noticed.
“I saw a great growth out of Drew,” head coach Mark Stoops said on Tuesday. “It’s hard to put an exact figure or definition on that.”
Stoops has seen the blustery Barker, the same high school quarterback from Conner whose gift for gab helped put together the highly rated 2014 class, become an actual leader.
Sometimes, Stoops knows a leader when he doesn’t hear him.
“I’m not really into guys talking just to talk or to act like they’re a leader because they’re saying things,” the coach said. “I saw (Barker) actually become more calm or more quiet, but I liked that.”
He’s seen the quarterback take command of the offense without “all the BS talking, just trying to be the leader just because you’re the QB,” Stoops continued.
“I like his growth. I like his approach, his work ethic.”
Barker was quick to point out that the growth hasn’t just been in him, but in many of those players that came in with him in 2014.
As a whole, the group has a longer attention span, better focus and seems more “locked in,” Barker said.
“Everyone’s growing up on the team,” the quarterback said. “We’ve all had some growing to do. We were all really young when we first got here.”
As the new rounds of younger players have arrived on campus, Barker said he’s seen his teammates try to be better examples to “help build that culture” at Kentucky.
Barker wants to rebuild UK’s brand while reshaping his own.
“I’ve pretty much stayed the same Drew, I’ve just learned to make better decisions and be more mature,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve changed as a person, just changed some values and my life, what comes first kind of thing.”