HEBRON – Nailing a key commitment from the four-star quarterback Drew Barker will certainly make a national splash, but for Kentucky the significance also extends to the home front.
Despite the beloved Commonwealth’s reputation for not being much of a football state, the fortunes of its flagship’s football program suggests otherwise.
Here, let Mr. Barker explain.
“Every time UK has been good, it’s been guys from in-state that were the supporting cast,” Conner’s star quarterback said Friday after taking a front-row seat on the Mark Stoops’ bandwagon.
“So they kind of sold that to me, too. Guys like myself, Cameron (Fogle), (Ryan) Timmons, (Jason) Hatcher. Guys like that who are the core of the team. That’s when they were really good, when they had guys from the state.”
It’s true, it’s true.
Back in 1998 when Kentucky went to the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day, the quarterback was a fellow out of Leslie County named Tim Couch who threw to a speedy touchdown-maker out of Harrodsburg named Craig Yeast.
In 2002, when Kentucky went 7-5, the quarterback was the hard-throwing former Ft. Thomas Highlands star Jared Lorenzen while the 1,000-yard rusher was a tough running back from Hopkinsville named Artose Pinner.
In 2007, when Kentucky beat No. 1-ranked LSU, the quarterback was a former North Hardin star named Andre Woodson who threw bullets to a wide receiver from Louisville Manual named Keean Burton and a tight end from Boyle County named Jacob Tamme.
When the football program did a nosedive the last three years it was in part because the in-state inroads dried up.
Blame that on a lack of talent. Blame that on poor recruiting. Blame that on a combination of the two. It doesn’t matter.
Here’s what matters: If Kentucky is to be good in football it has to convince the state’s top-level prospects to play their college football in Lexington. That was true when Bear Bryant was the coach, when Jerry Claiborne was the coach, when Hal Mumme was the coach, when Rich Brooks was the coach.
It is true that you cannot win at UK with in-state players alone. The state’s population isn’t large enough for UK to go toe-to-toe with the football-mad states that house competing SEC schools.
When you are a Kentucky, however, and there is a player in your state that is coveted by SEC schools, you have to keep that player in Kentucky – and that doesn’t mean Louisville, Kentucky.
Of all the positive moves Stoops has made so far, locking the in-state gates ranks among the most impressive.
Not long after taking the job, he ended Ryan Timmons’ flirtations with Florida and convinced the Franklin County speedster he would be a perfect fit for Neal Brown’s Air Raid.
Stoops and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot then flipped touted Louisville Trinity defensive end Jason Hatcher from his commitment to Southern Cal.
As nice as it is to sign a fleet receiver and a sack-master defensive end, however, quarterbacks are different. Quarterbacks are leaders.
Barker intends to do just that. No sooner had he placed that “CATS” hat on his head, than he began listing a progression of highly-recruited names he had on his call list. Barker was quick to say he wouldn’t pressure his camp buddies into pledging their allegiance to Stoops, but he would be making a pitch.
South Carolina had made its pitch to Barker. Steve Spurrier. A program that won 11 games last season.
And Barker looked for all the world Friday like a future Gamecock. He wore a red tie. He sat closest to the South Carolina hat. Then he executed a bootleg.
“When it came down to it, I thought what would it be like if I went to South Carolina and I was looking over at UK and they were doing great things,” Barker said. “I would be like, ‘Oh man, I missed out on that.’ ”
Winning starts at home.