HEBRON — The University of Kentucky doesn't pull off many fourth-quarter rallies in football, but the Cats successfully capped a big recruiting comeback on Friday.
Conner quarterback Drew Barker, a four-star prospect who scratched UK off his list last summer before being ardently wooed by new coach Mark Stoops, committed to the Cats.
When Barker slipped on a blue UK cap, Conner Coach Dave Trosper cued up the UK fight song on his computer and it played in the school auditorium as Barker hugged his parents, and the assembled students cheered.
"Six months ago I didn't think I'd be putting on a UK cap here today," he said, referring to how he felt slighted when previous UK coach Joker Phillips and his staff didn't offer him a scholarship.
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"But (Stoops and his staff) did a complete 180, and you can obviously see that by me committing to them today."
Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown made Barker their No. 1 quarterback target in the Class of 2014, and they did everything they could to win his affections. The UK staff went so far as to flood Barker with 115 pieces of recruiting mail on one day in March, and 100 more on one day in April.
Still, Barker said it was a close call to pick UK over South Carolina. He said he was still unsure of his decision until he and his parents talked things over Wednesday night.
"That's when I was 100 percent sure," he said.
When Barker arrived at Friday's news conference he was wearing a red tie, which had some media members wondering if South Carolina was going to be his choice. Afterward, Barker said the tie's only significance was that "my mom thought it looked good on me."
Barker called South Carolina assistant coach G.A. Mangus right before Friday's news conference to tell him he had settled on UK.
"That was definitely one of the most difficult conversations I've had in my life," Barker said. "It was really tough. I was that close to going to South Carolina. We had a great friendship."
Ultimately, Barker couldn't pass up the chance to play for his home-state school.
"At the end of day, I thought about what it would be like if I went to South Carolina, then looked over at UK and they were doing great things," he said. "I'd be like, 'Oh man, I really missed out on that.'"
Barker said he also thought about "life after football, and the connections you've made in your home state when you're done playing."
Barker, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound senior-to-be, also had offers from Tennessee, Illinois, Louisville, Ole Miss, Miami, Mississippi State, Purdue and Cincinnati, among others.
Barker described himself as "a drop-back quarterback who can keep the defense honest. I can tuck it and run and make them play 11-on-11 football."
Rated a four-star recruit by Rivals.com, Barker is a dual-threat quarterback. He has passed for 3,104 yards and 26 touchdowns, and rushed for 2,971 yards and 41 TDs.
Trosper said Barker will be well suited to run Brown's offense at UK because it's very similar to what Conner runs, and because Barker is already adept at reading defenses.
"I think that's what will separate him from a lot of regular freshmen coming in," Trosper said. "He's able to see different coverages and is able to check on some things, which is what they ask you to do at the next level."
Barker said he's a fan of Brown's style of offense: "I think it's going to do really well. We've just gotta get the play-makers there."
He said he'll do his best to help UK recruit those play-makers, many of whom he's gotten to know at summer camps, and he has their cellphone numbers.
"I've got a list," he said.
Barker, who will graduate in December and enroll at UK in January, said he'll give it everything he has to earn playing time as a freshman, but if he doesn't he won't mind being a redshirt.
He has been invited to take part in the Rivals 5-Star Challenge at Soldier Field in Chicago on June 7-9. The top prospects in the nation will compete at that camp.
Kentucky's 2014 commitments
Players who have committed to Kentucky from the class of 2014:
Player Pos Ht Wt Hometown Rivals Scout
Drew Barker QB 6-3 214 Burlington, Ky. 4-star 4-star
Tymere Dubose DE 6-6 265 Youngstown, Ohio 3-star 3-star
Dorian Hendrix LB 5-11 225Huber Heights, Ohio3-star 3-star
Mikel Horton RB 6-1 230 West Chester, Ohio 4-star 3-star
Darryl Long TE 6-5 234 Westerville, Ohio 3-star 3-star
Thaddeus SnodgrassWR 6-1 184 Springfield, Ohio 4-star 4-star
■ Barker is considered the No. 153 overall player in the class according to Rivals and No. 102 according to Scout.
■ Snodgrass is considered the No. 198 overall player in the class according to Rivals and No. 204 according to Scout.
■ Horton is considered the No. 209 overall player in the class according to Rivals.