Now that high school basketball star Andrew Wiggins has chosen to attend Kansas, UofL Coach Rick Pitino has his tattoo, Orb has moved on to Pimlico and UK Coach John Calipari stagemanages to keep his name in the news (inviting Bill Clinton to his fantasy camp), the next big thing in Kentucky has to be Drew Barker.
Barker, Connor High School’s splendid 6-feet-3, 215-pound quarterback is clean-cut and tall enough to see over crowds at the mall. He has no tattoos that we know about and is the latest prize grease-penciled onto UK football Coach Mark Stoops’s board in the war room in Lexington.
A native son prospect choosing Flagship U. over Tennessee — and especially Steve Spurrier and South Carolina — qualifies as a giant leap forward for UK football … on paper.
When Barker pulled on a blue ball cap last week he made these things happen:
• The Andrew Wiggins-to-Kentucky crowd had time to take a deep breath.
• UK basketball was upstaged for one news cycle.
• Louisville basketball and football slipped below the fold.
• Somewhere down in this story are the words Patrick Towles, savior.
• The media went viral comparing
UK’s newest rookie-to-be to Tim Couch.
The first four are okay. The last, while predictable, is pre-mature. For every exaggerated comparison to Couch, the Leslie County native, there must be a Morgan Newton warning. The former was a darling and a Deuce before he said “no” to Tennessee in 1995 and “yes” to Bill Curry and UK. A rude change in popularity for Couch followed the 1999 NFL draft.
Newton, in 2008, was a Parade All-American at Carmel, Indiana and all the rage when he signed with Kentucky. Four years on, nobody’s asking for autographs and Morgan is headed to an NFL tryout as a tight end.
Just two seasons ago, the new savior for Kentucky football was going to be Patrick Towles. Heading into the 2013 fall practice, Towles is clipboard carrier for Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith, a fact that brings us to a wish list.
• Here’s wishing Coach Stoops had advised Barker to skip the melodramatic press conference with the piped in fight song. When the tune stopped the only people impressed with Barker’s signing and four-star credentials besides his mom will be the motivation coach at whatever Connor High opponent is up next.
• I wish the kid had had a better idea, such as texting his recruit-to- UK-pitch to pals still on UK’s war room wall.
• I also wish Barker had skipped the low-bridge job on ex-UK coach Joker Phillips. The fact that Joker did not heavily recruit Baker likely had extenuating circumstances.
1. Already three-deep at QB with Smith, Whitlow and Towles, and presuming UK coaches were as impressed with Barker as Stoops is, it could have been that Phillips knew the kid from Connor was a Big Blue fan and put him on the recruit-later priority list. Joker took him for granted. It happens.
2. A more urgent priority may well have been to find and sign a few 300-pounders to insure his quarterback would not spend another SEC season running for his life.
Then, there’s history. v Jerry Claiborne failed to recruit Kentucky’s first Mr. Football in 1986. Tight end Frank Jacobs at Newport Central Catholic went to Notre Dame. v Hal Mumme and Guy Morris did not recruit Jacob Tamme at nearby Danville in 2003. Rich Brooks did and Tamme became arguably the best tight end in UK history, an All-American and Peyton Manning’s favorite target in the NFL. v Bill Curry was accused of not recruiting Shaun Alexander in 1994. Alexander went to Alabama and became a Heisman finalist. v Charlie Bradshaw’s brutality was responsible for the best linebacker ever in the Bluegrass State, Dale Lindsey, transferring to Western Kentucky. v Bear Bryant drew criticism in the early 1950s for not recruiting Paul Hornung hard enough. Hornung won a Heisman at Notre Dame, had a glorious career in the NFL and is in the Hall of Fame.
And so it goes.