Barker goes Blue

HEBRON, Ky. -- Four-star quarterback Drew Barker became the Wildcats' first in-state commitment for the Class of 2014 on Friday when he announced his choice during a ceremony at Conner High School.

HEBRON, Ky. -- In one of the more suspenseful college choice announcements the Bluegrass State has seen in recent years, Drew Barker added to the drama Friday as he wore a red tie to the ceremony at Conner High School when all eyes in the auditorium knew his decision was likely boiling down to the garnet-clad South Carolina Gamecocks or the blue and white of the Kentucky Wildcats.

"Uh-oh," more than a few nervous members of the Big Blue Nation uttered when he appeared alongside his parents and coach for the ceremony.

As it turned out, the fashion choice was much ado about nothing. Barker pulled a blue cap with giant CATS letters from under the table and made the pro-UK crowd cheer wildly when he announced his intention to play for Mark Stoops' program.

"The red tie, I guess my mom just thought it looked good on me, so she picked it out," Barker said with a laugh.

The choice of clothing was simple. The college choice was anything but that.

Barker, who had drawn scholarship offers from numerous major programs like UK, South Carolina, Cincinnati, Louisville, Miami, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, North Carolina and Tennessee, said he wavered on his choice as recently as the middle of this week.

"I decided about 100 percent that I was going to attend Kentucky about Wednesday night," he said. "I sat down with my parents to discuss everything. Before then, I was still kind of wavering, but we just talked everything over and that's when I was 100 percent going to UK."

That choice was inconceivable to Barker six or seven months ago, when he was receiving very little recruiting attention from the former UK coaching staff.

But everything changed when Stoops took the job in Lexington and brought on Neal Brown, a former Wildcat and a pass-happy offensive coordinator from Texas Tech with ties to Hal Mumme's old "Air Raid" offense.

"Six months ago, I definitely didn't think I'd be putting on a UK hat here," Barker said. "Everyone's heard the stories about the old staff, but (the new staff) did a complete 180, and obviously you can see that by me committing today.

"Coach Brown came in right away when they got the job... I think his offense is going to do really well at Kentucky."

Barker shared a hug with his coach. (FOX Sports Photo by Jeff Drummond.)
Turning down the Gamecocks was not a simple matter, though. Barker said the call to his South Carolina recruiting coach, G.A. Mangus, "was probably one of the most difficult conversations I've ever had in my life. That was really tough. I was that close to going to South Carolina. Really, really tough to do."

Tennessee finished a distant third in the race. The Volunteers were the only other school that had a hat on the table during Friday's suspense-filled announcement.

The mid-week conversation with his family -- lifelong UK fans -- help bring some clarity to the situation.

"The other day I sat down and really thought, what would it be like if I went to South Carolina and looked over at UK doing great things?" Barker said. "I would think, 'Oh man, I really missed out on that.'

"I think this (UK) staff is turning it around completely. The vibe is completely different. You can see it with the fan support and the recruits and everything. They've upped everything and went to new paths that people didn't think Kentucky could go to."

Barker (6-3, 210) is rated the No. 7 quarterback prospect in the country by FOX Sports Next and Scout. He is coming off a junior season which saw him pass for 2,072 yards and 22 touchdowns while rushing for 1,455 yards and 18 scores. He will be a leading contender for the state's "Mr. Football" honor next season.

He plans to graduate early from Conner and join the UK program in January of 2014, putting him in a position to compete in next spring's workouts against the Wildcats' trio of Maxwell Smith, Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles. All of those players are currently sophomores, although one is likely to redshirt next season alongside Barker.

"The plan is I'll probably go in and redshirt," Barker said. "But I'm going to come in there and work my butt off" in an effort to win the starting job.

For now, he's focused on drawing more talent to Lexington.

"I've got a list," Barker said of his fellow UK recruits. "I've got a lot of guys numbers in my phone that I'm going to hit up."

He noted that Matt Elam, a four-star defensive tackle from Kentucky's John Hardin High School who holds an offer from Alabama, will be one of the first numbers he dials in his duties as a new "recruiting assistant." He'll also be placing calls to potential receiving targets high on UK's wish list for 2014, including Cincinnati's Derek Kief, North Carolina's Braxton Berrios, South Carolina's Blake Bone and Georgia two-way standout Nick Glass.

Barker said he doesn't want to put any pressure on prospects because he didn't like that when some tried to push him toward a particular school, but smiled when he described his pitch: "Do what's best for you, but I think you'd look better playing with me."

Kentucky now has six verbal commitments for 2014. Barker was the first from the Bluegrass State; the previous five from Ohio, including: defensive end Tymere Dubose, tight end Darryl Long, running back Mikel Horton, wide receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass and linebacker Dorian Hendrix.

Scout currently ranks UK's class No. 18 in the nation and seventh among SEC programs.

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