No doubt Drew Barker has waited for this moment. He’s a Kentucky kid. He was a high-profile recruit. He’s a quarterback. Everyone pays attention to the quarterback. And every quarterback wants to come out of spring practice as the No. 1 quarterback.
Heading into the summer, Drew Barker is Kentucky’s No. 1 quarterback.
“Actually, Tony Neely told me,” said Barker on Saturday.
Neely, UK’s assistant athletic director for media relations, was the one who relayed the news to Barker during Mark Stoops’ Blue-White post-game news conference on Saturday. In answer to a question, the head coach indicated the sophomore occupies the top line on the depth chart.
“Yeah, he will be the starting quarterback right now,” Stoops said. “He came out of spring as the No. 1 quarterback.”
“It’s definitely good to hear that, coming from the head coach,” Barker said. “Excited to hear that, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
This was no real surprise, of course. All spring there wasn’t so much talk of a quarterback competition as there was talk about how the quarterbacks were progressing. All along, there seemed an unannounced pecking order with Barker at No. 1, junior college transfer Stephen Johnson at No. 2, and freshman Gunnar Hoak, transfer Luke Wright and walk-on Davis Mattingly filling in the rest of the spots, though not necessarily in that order.
A year ago, Patrick Towles seemed to exit spring drills as the No. 1 guy, but Stoops wouldn’t say that out loud. The competition between Towles and Barker, then a redshirt freshman, would continue. Not so, this year. Barker is the guy.
“That’s just motivation to keep working hard,” said quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw.
It’s definitely good to hear that, coming from the head coach. Excited to hear that, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Drew Barker on being named the No. 1 quarterback
How did Barker look Saturday? Going primarily against the No. 2 defense, he completed 12 of 18 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. It was a bad interception. Barker threw the ball almost directly to cornerback Jared Tucker. Next series, however, Barker bounced back to lead the Cats to a touchdown in a two-minute drill situation.
“He showed me a lot right there,” said offensive coordinator Eddie Gran.
To this point, Barker hasn’t had the chance to show too much. He started the final two games last season. The first was against lowly Charlotte. The second was against archrival Louisville. The first was a win; the second a loss. Barker showed promising flashes. He also showed inexperience.
That was a different year and a different offensive coordinator (Shannon Dawson). Gran is in charge of the offense now.
“Decision-making,” said Gran when asked where Barker had improved the most. “I thought he got it out quick, knew where to go with the ball and that’s huge. As a quarterback, you have to be able to do that.”
Late in the first quarter, the ball at the defense’s 18-yard line, Barker dropped back to pass, waited for the precise moment for receiver Charles Walker to break open in the end zone. The throw was off-line — one surely Barker would love to have back — but the decision and the timing were spot-on. There was as much promise in that incompletion as there was in some of Barker’s completions. Down the road, he’ll complete that throw.
Only now, the future is now. Barker was the lead recruit in Stoops’ recruiting class, not just in the rankings but in the way the former Conner star helped persuade other prospects to follow him to Lexington. He redshirted in 2014, apprenticed in 2015 and is being given the reins for 2016.
“It feels good,” he said. “I’m not going to sit here and pat myself on the back or anything because I had an interception, I had some bad throws. But it is a good starting point, it is a good confidence-builder going into the season. . . . We’ve just got to keep the foot on the gas and keep going.”