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Keith Taylor: Running short on time, UK’s junior class eager to make good on ‘changing the game’

Three years ago, they were learning the ropes. Now veterans, Kentucky’s recruiting class of 2014 wants to put their stamp on a program that hasn’t been to a bowl game in five years.

Mark Stoops’ second recruiting class has experienced some hits and misses during the past two seasons, but the talent level was an upgrade when compared to previous recruiting classes.

 Garrett Johnson, left, and Drew Barker, right, are part of UK's 2014 recruiting class (Keith Taylor Photo)

Garrett Johnson, left, and Drew Barker, right, are part of UK’s 2014 recruiting class (Keith Taylor Photo)

The class assembled by Stoops and recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow brought in quarterback Drew Barker, running back Stanley “Boom” Williams, receivers Garrett Johnson, Dorian Baker and Blake Bone, along with defensive linemen Matt Elam, Tymere Dubose and running back Mikel Horton.

Despite injuries and other mishaps, Williams has led the team in rushing the past two seasons. Williams ran for 855 yards and six touchdowns last year and is considered the gem of the class.

Going into his third season with the Wildcats, Williams doesn’t feel any pressure for the class to leave a mark in the next two years.

“I just feel like we have to come out and be who we are and play like we know how to play.,” Williams said. “Not just our class, but as a team and a whole and I feel like we can do that. We just have to come out and take every game one by one and have a chance to win.”

Johnson, who has endured his own roller coaster ride with the Wildcats, said pressure to perform is part of the process.

“It’s something we signed up for,” Johnson said. “We knew coming here, our plan was to change the game. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen when we wanted it to, but it’s here now and we’re taking it as it is and going to get it done.”

And the Wildcats are relying on Barker to deliver at least in the pocket. A redshirt sophomore, Barker competed for the starting job with Patrick Towles last season and played in a backup role before starting the last two games. Towels packed his bags and departed for Boston College, while Barker enters the season as the team’s starting quarterback.

 A slimmed down Matt Elam will get his chance to shine on defense this season (Keith Taylor Photo)

A slimmed down Matt Elam will get his chance to shine on defense this season (Keith Taylor Photo)

Johnson has watched Barker’s progression throughout his career and likes the progress he’s witnessed on and off the field.

“He’s gotten better, and you can tell he’s taken that leadership role,” Johnson said. “He’s being more vocal on and off the field. He’s out there, getting a lot of work in and perfecting his craft and watching a lot of film. I’m excited to see what Drew does.”

Baker agreed and envisions Barker succeeding as the team’s starting signal caller.

“I see him stepping up, being a leader and being a great quarterback,” Baker said. “I’m looking at him as a team leader and that’s what he is. He’s come a long way and I’m very proud of him. Looking at him today it’s a big compliment because he’s come so far.”

Johnson, Bone and Baker share the blame for the team’s lack of success during the past two seasons. Dropped passes have resulted in disappointing outcomes and Baker is ready to reverse course in the passing game. The solution, he said, lies in consistency.

“We have to be consistent ourselves to help our quarterback be consistent,” Baker said. “If we’re not consistent ourselves, how can he be consistent, not running the right routes and doing what we’re supposed to be doing? It’s got to start with us first. We just have to be more consistent.”

The talented class knows facility upgrades alone won’t lead to more success on the field. Elam said the “fans want to see us win” and is eager to satisfy a hungry fan base.

“We definitely (have) the athletes … let’s go,” Elam said. “Nobody wants to lose and that’s not what we’re about. We definitely want to win.”

Johnson hopes the junior class can change the direction of the program sooner rather than later.

“We change the game by winning and going to a bowl game,” Johnson said. “We change it by building better men on and off the field and I feel like in every area with everybody going the right direction, that’s how you change the game.”

Keith Taylor is a senior sports writer for KyForward, where he primarily covers University of Kentucky sports. Reach him at keith.taylor@kyforward.com or @keithtaylor21 on Twitter

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