As the UK football class of 2014 added talented prospects over the summer, recruiting analysts warned of the negativity that was bound to come with a tough season.
It started early — before Mark Stoops had even finished coaching his first game with the Wildcats. The loss to Western Kentucky on Saturday night in Nashville was a disappointment to UK fans, some of whom immediately questioned whether Stoops could keep the class together.
Conner quarterback Drew Barker took it as an opportunity for reassurance.
“Quit acting like we are going to decommit. We know the situation!” Barker tweeted.
The four-star prospect also pointed out that Alabama lost a game to Louisiana-Monroe during Nick Saban’s first season as head coach in 2007. That UL-Monroe squad came to Tuscaloosa with a losing record.
Mikel Horton and Thaddeus Snodgrass were among the other high-profile commitments who joined Barker in a call for patience during Stoops’ first season.
Barker’s enthusiasm for the program and the new coaching staff has been credited with helping to secure commitments from other top recruits. He knows he’s become the face of UK’s class — currently ranked seventh in the nation by Rivals.com — and he talked about that after his season-opening victory Saturday afternoon against Boone County.
“I guess I just kind of have to embrace it,” Barker told the Herald-Leader. “You can’t shy away from it. You just have to take it in. Don’t get too caught up in it, but don’t shy away. Just be a leader. That’s what I come out here (and do).”
While recruiting observers wonder whether UK can hold together a top-10 class amid one of the toughest schedules in the nation, Barker is more worried about adding to it.
When asked about who else he’d like to see in a UK uniform, Barker specifically mentioned John Hardin defensive tackle Matt Elam — “He’s the big one” — and wide receivers Dorian Baker and Braxton Berrios.
Barker estimated that he talks to those players and some other UK targets at least three times a week.
“I don’t try to blow up their phone too much,” he said. “And usually it’s not about recruiting, it’s about building a friendship, because they get tired of hearing about (recruiting) from the coaches.”
Barker also talked about the Cats’ newest commitment — four-star wide receiver Blake Bone. The future UK quarterback was understandably pleased with that addition.
“That was really big,” he said. “To have a 6-5 target on the outside that can run? With those hands? It’s going to be really exciting. I can’t wait to throw to him.”
Barker has already been on UK’s campus “six or seven times” since he committed to the Wildcats in May. He’ll be at next weekend’s home opener against Miami (Ohio) and said he plans to attend all seven home games this season.
And, of course, he’ll continue in his role as UK’s ambassador on the recruiting trail.
“Hopefully we can finish strong with those guys and finish out the class good,” he said.