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Kentucky Wildcats Football: Is Drew Barker at a Crossroads?

The once heralded savior of the program has fallen on hard times during his freshman year. And he hasn't played one minute during a meaningful football game.

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

It started off as a great story. Drew Barker was a Kentucky kid that played quarterback at an in-state high school. He was a four star prospect with offers from Louisville, Ole Miss, Tennessee, The U, and South Carolina. All signs pointed to him committing to "The Old Ball Coach" even though he was Kentucky born and bred. The Wildcats weren't even on his radar because of the previous coaching regime of Joker Phillips. You see, Phillips and his staff never recruited Barker. In fact, he didn't even know the blue chip prospect attended one of his camps.

Once Phillips was fired, Mark Stoops was hired as the new head coach. He brought with him pedigree in both his name and his job history. Fresh off of leading Florida State's defense as one of the top units in the nation, Stoops brought his talents in Lexington in order to turn around a downtrodden program. He also brought Kentucky native Neal Brown and his Air Raid style offense fresh from the playbooks of Hal Mumme. Their first priority was to secure the in-state talent. Guys like Ryan Timmonds, Jason Hatcher,  and Drew Barker were high on the list of must-haves and they landed all three.

It was a truly amazing turnaround for Barker. He went from not even considering the 'Cats to committing to an up and coming program over an established SEC East contender with South Carolina. Steve Spurrier is billed as a quarterback guru. Mark Stoops and his staff were largely unporven, especially in the SEC.

But with Barker's commitment, the program got a boost. Barker endeared himself to fans with charming interviews and a diary written  for Kentucky Sports Radio. His talent was obvious and some were labeling him as the next Tim Couch, the savior of the program.

There was no doubt that Barker was the face of the 2014 class and it was evident in this commercial that was put out during the Super Bowl:

There he is, front and center, confidently flipping the ball over his shoulder, looking ready to lead the new era of Wildcats football.

But that new era didn't start with Barker. With a quarterback race that was tight between Reese Phillips, Patrick Towles, and Drew Barker, Stoops and Brown opted to go with the more seasoned Towles. Another highly rated Kentucky native, over the freshman Barker. It came as a bit of a surprise to some, but the logic was sound: Towles and Barker had similar ability, but the former had played in SEC football games and had been around for two seasons, while the latter was still acclimating to the speed of the college game.

Towles had his ups and downs on the field. While he looked great at times, against Florida and Mississippi State in particular, he hit bumps in the road. That's expected from a first year starter, no matter how long he has been at the school.

While Towles experienced  some occasional some adversity on the field, Barker had his issues off the field. Back in September, Drew Barker along with Dorian Baker, Stanley "Boom" Williams, and Tymere Dubose were caught on campus firing air soft guns. Baker and Williams were both playing heavy minutes and were suspended for the following game, while Barker and Dubose faced in-house discipline. Stoops emphasized that all of them were good kids that made a silly mistake and regretted that mistake. No one was hurt. It was just another "kids will be kids" incident and nothing more. Many felt that the staff and administration handled the incident well and that the punishment fit the crime. They were charged with second degree disorderly conduct.

The Wildcats struggled through the back-end of the season, dropping six games in a row. Neal Brown left the staff to take a head coaching gig at Troy, a place where he had coached in the past. Stoops brought in West Virginia offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson to fill the position.

With a new coordinator and with some of the struggles that Towles experienced on the field, many felt that Drew Barker would be given another crack at winning the starting job during summer camp. He would be a redshirt freshman and would be learning a new system along with Towles.

And then the latest incident with Barker occurred, this one seeming more serious. Over the weekend, Barker, again along with Baker, and Dubose were allegedly involved in a bar brawl with Eastern Kentucky University lineman Colton Scurry. As of now, the details of the fight are largely unknown, but here is what we have to go on:

  • There indeed was a fight at a Richmond, Kentucky bar called Jerzeez.
  • Scurry was indeed beaten up and there are gruesome photos of his injuries.
  • It isn't clear who started the fight, but friends of Barker insist that Scurry was the instigator.
  • It seems quite evident that Barker was indeed involved in some capacity.
  • Scurry may be looking into filing charges against those involved.
No charges have been filed as of yet, and like I said previously, everything thus far has been nothing more than accusations and hearsay.

At this point Drew Barker is at a crossroads. I know that Dubose and Baker were also involved in both incidences, but Barker is the face of the class and the heir apparent as the face of the program. The punishments have not been handed down and we don't know if there will be any to hand down; but Barker has to be on a short leash with Stoops.

Personally, I would want a zero tolerance policy instituted for the Barker, Dubose, and Baker. Whether or not they instigated a fight, they were involved. The young men need to make better decisions, and that needs to start with the quarterback.

I understand that Barker never asked to be put in the position that he's in, nor did he ask to be the next Tim Couch. But the fact is that he was the highest profile recruit in the highest profile class of the Stoops era and he plays the highest profile position in football.

I was a young college student once as well and I made some mistakes and did some things that I would like to take back. I think that any individual can say that about their life at one point or another. But my situation and your situation is much, much different than that of Drew Barker's. One can argue that he has much more to lose.

I don't think Barker is a bad kid but I do think he has made some bad decisions in his short time at Kentucky. If he isn't careful, he will become a cautionary tale on how to not handle expectations.

Stoops is entering into a make or break season. The recruiting momentum has taken a bit of a hit recently with a number of decommitments, some that were extremely shocking. Going 4-8 or 5-7 will not be considered progress and could further derail recruitment endeavors in the future. Any outside issues will not be welcome and Barker has done nothing to help that cause. He has Stoops' attention right now for all of the wrong reasons. Stoops cannot afford any more setbacks.

This isn't the end of the story and more will play out in the coming weeks. I'm hoping that Barker will be a Wildcat for the next three to four years and that he lives up to the hype. But his presence on the field will be determined by what he does off of it. At the rate he's going, playing quarterback may be the least of his worries.