UK Football

Barker driven to continue legacy of standout UK QBs from Bluegrass

In limited duty late last season, Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker completed 35 of 70 passes for 364 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
In limited duty late last season, Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker completed 35 of 70 passes for 364 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.

Drew Barker was 11 years old when his mom, Ellie, scored tickets for the two of them to see what would prove a rather remarkable Kentucky Wildcats football game.

On Oct. 13, 2007, the boy from Northern Kentucky who would become the University of Kentucky’s 2016 starting quarterback was at Commonwealth Stadium to watch an in-state QB, Andre Woodson, lead the Cats on one of their greatest football moments, a 43-37 triple-overtime upset of No. 1 LSU.

“I think that night had a big impact on Drew,” said Terry Barker, the quarterback’s father.

Flash forward to 2013 when the recruitment of Drew Barker, a four-star quarterback recruit from Burlington in Boone County, reached full boil. South Carolina and Steve Spurrier pitched Barker hard. Butch Jones, who had wooed Barker when he was the head man at Cincinnati, still wanted the QB after the coach moved to Tennessee.

Yet, at the moment of decision, Barker felt a connection to his home-state university that he could not resist.

Said Terry Barker: “I remember when he was making his (school) choice, Drew talked about Kentucky, and how they’d always been good when they had strong in-state contributors — Tim Couch, Jared Lorenzen ... Andre Woodson.”

For the last 3 1/2 decades, the times when UK has had its best football teams has pretty consistently tracked with the times Kentucky has had memorable in-state quarterbacks.

Bill Ransdell (Elizabethtown) led UK to its most recent nine-win season and a Hall of Fame Bowl win in 1984. Pookie Jones (Calloway County) directed the Wildcats to the Peach Bowl in 1993. Couch (Leslie County) rewrote all of Kentucky’s passing records while taking the Cats to the Outback Bowl in 1998.

Lorenzen (Highlands) directed a seven-win season in 2002 and became UK’s all-time leading passer for his career. Woodson (North Hardin) led Kentucky to back-to-back eight-win seasons and consecutive Music City Bowl triumphs in 2006 and ’07.

Having claimed the Kentucky starting job as a redshirt sophomore, Barker (Conner High School) has up to three seasons to etch his name on the honor roll of UK in-state quarterback standouts.

“The great (UK) quarterbacks, most of them, have been from Kentucky,” Drew Barker said. “I just want to add my name to that list.”

Why the in-state quarterback bias?

Some golden QB names from UK’s deeper past — George Blanda (Youngwood, Pa.), Babe Parilli (Rochester, Pa.) and Derrick Ramsey (Camden, N.J.), to name three — were from outside of the commonwealth.

Yet since Ramsey departed after helming Kentucky’s 10-1 season in 1977, the best Wildcats signal callers have consistently been in-state products.

The answer to why doesn’t seem that difficult. Because of state loyalty, Kentucky is able to sign more talented homegrown QBs than it is able to lure from outside the commonwealth.

Ransdell was a Wildcats legacy, his father having lettered as a Kentucky running back in 1959, ’60 and ’61.

“I can remember as a boy, my Dad bringing us to games in Commonwealth Stadium and us shagging the kickoffs before the game,” Ransdell said. “Playing for Kentucky was always my goal.”

Couch, as USA Today national Offensive Player of the Year, could have played college football anywhere. He grew up in a family of rabid UK fans in a part of the state, the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, where loyalty to the University of Kentucky is a way of life.

The success of Couch at UK helped lure Lorenzen.

“I had chances to go to so-called ‘better football schools,’” Lorenzen said. “But for me, it was seeing Tim do what he did and wanting to try to do that, too. I wanted to stay home and be a part of something in my home state.”

Woodson was from a military family, his mom assigned to Fort Knox. UK would not even have been on the recruiting radar of the four-star prospect had Woodson’s family not been stationed in the commonwealth.

For Barker, state pride helped bring him to UK.

“For me, I just wanted to come here and represent the home state,” Barker said. “I feel like if you are a good quarterback in high school (in Kentucky) coming up and getting recruited, this is kind of a neat place to come and play.”

A QB ‘point guard’

A year ago, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Barker replaced Patrick Towles as the Kentucky starter with two games remaining in what turned out to be a 5-7 season. Against overmatched Charlotte, Barker managed the game in a 58-10 UK rout.

However, as Kentucky saw a 21-0 lead turn into a 38-24 loss to archrival Louisville in the season finale, Barker struggled (6-for-22 passing) in a contest where the Wildcats needed positive plays made at the quarterback position.

After a spring-practice competition with junior college transfer Stephen Johnson II, UK head coach Mark Stoops named Barker the starter for 2016.

This season, Barker will be working with the third offensive coordinator (Eddie Gran) and third quarterbacks coach (Darin Hinshaw) since arriving on the UK campus.

In preseason camp, Gran has praised Barker for efficiency and knowing “where to go with the ball.”

Barker said he has adopted a “point guard” mentality. “I know that I am not going to win a game by myself by doing some heroic play all the time,” he said. “So my role is really just to get guys the ball and let them make the plays.”

Starting Sept. 3 when Southern Mississippi visits Lexington, the “point guard” starts the quest to write the name “Drew Barker” alongside the other in-state QBs who have given Kentucky football its best moments these past 35 years.

Scouting the Cats: Quarterbacks

This is the third of nine stories looking at the 2016 Kentucky football team position by position. Here are the previous stories in the series:

Tight ends: Kentucky might use tight-knit tight ends in tandem

Wide receivers: So far Kentucky WRs getting grapes, not wrath

Kentucky’s quarterbacks

The main man: In some ways, Drew Barker has been the face of the Kentucky program since, as a high school commitment, he became the centripetal force holding UK’s ballyhooed 2014 recruiting class together. After starting the final two games of last season with mixed results, the Conner High School product was named the 2016 starter by Mark Stoops at the end of spring practice. New UK quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw says Barker’s development is proceeding at satisfactory levels. “I would say Drew has done a really good job of progression with the offense,” Hinshaw said.

The supporting cast: Junior college transfer Stephen Johnson II came out of the spring as the No. 2 QB. Nimble afoot but not as refined a passer as Barker, Johnson II would put more quarterback run game into the UK offense. Hinshaw raves about true freshman Gunnar Hoak. “Has really done a fantastic job this camp,” Hinshaw said of Hoak. “... He’s done a great job of throwing on target.” Walk-ons Davis Mattingly, the former Male High School standout, and Luke Wright, a transfer from Cincinnati, round out UK’s QB options.

Outlook: Barker is the only quarterback on the roster who has ever taken a snap in a UK game — and he’s only been in five contests. So QB is a position with many unknowns for the Cats in 2016. Hinshaw said the aim in preseason camp has been to throw as much at Barker as possible — blitzes, red zone scenarios, third downs, two-minute offense. “For a young quarterback that hasn’t played that much, this is invaluable to him,” Hinshaw said. “... Again and again, I tell him ‘You’ve got to be comfortable being uncomfortable.’”