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UK quarterback Drew Barker no longer takes little things for granted on road to recovery

By Keith Taylor
KyForward Senior Sports Writer

Drew Barker has enjoyed being back on the football field and it’s the little things the Kentucky quarterback no longer takes for granted.

“Having a big setback like that makes you appreciate just being out there every day … the little things, like being back out there for practice and it’s awesome being back out there with my teammates,” he said. “It’s the little things you cherish now that maybe you didn’t appreciate before.”

Drew Barker throws a pass during a drill last weekend at Commonwealth Stadium. Barker is “70-80” percent recovered from back surgery (Keith Taylor Photo)

The junior quarterback and Conner High School graduate started Kentucky’s first three games last year before a back injury forced him to miss the last 10 games of the season. Barker, 0-2 in his first two games, played one series against New Mexico State before handing over the reins to junior college transfer Stephen Johnson, who helped lead the Wildcats to a 7-6 record, the team’s first winning season in more than six years.

Barker had successful back surgery last November and has been on the road to recovery ever since. Although his back issue came to the forefront against the Aggies in the third game of the season, problems began to surface last spring. Barker said he “tweaked” his back last May and “aggravated” the injury during the summer. It wasn’t until he attempted to recover a fumble in the season opener against Southern Miss he realized how much his back needed medical attention after pain and numbness began shooting through his leg. He knew then it was a serious matter.

“That’s when it really started,” Barker said. “I was just trying to fight through it. Every hit from that point on was making it worst. I probably should have said something earlier, but it was my first opportunity being out there (as a starter) and I wanted to give it everything I had. We had great success last season and it was awesome to see that.”

While sitting out, Barker did his best to encourage his teammates, including Johnson, who went 6-4 and guided the Wildcats to an exciting 41-38 victory over Louisville in the regular-season finale. On the field and behind the scenes, Barker was rooting for his teammates and his successor.

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“I was meetings and everything for the most part,” Barker said. “I’m missed a few here and there for rehab, but I was pretty much in (the meeting room) and anything I could offer and even on the sidelines and the games I was able to attend, I was out there helping him and encouraging him. Stephen and I have (had) a very good relationship ever since he’s gotten here. There’s no problems with us at all.”

Although a supporting teammate, Barker admitted sitting out wasn’t easy to endure.

“It was tough as a competitor,” he said. “You want to be out there and I’m a team player. I have a good relationship with everyone on the team and to see all the success we had a as a team I was so happy about how we did last year.”

Barker, who completed 18-of-36 passes for 334 yards, four touchdowns and seven interceptions before the injury, has participated in spring drills this season and is about 70-80 percent healthy and “getting there.” The rehabilitation process involved mostly walking approximately for an hour and a half each day in the beginning but the workouts have intensified as he moves closer to full recovery.

“The biggest thing is when you’re throwing you have to use your lower body and that’s where your throw really starts from,” Barker said. “Getting the strength back in my legs was one of the biggest obstacles I had to get over. The handoffs off and stuff (are harder) because you do a lot of turning and stuff like that. So far, so good. I haven’t had any setbacks and everything is going smooth. I really didn’t know if I would be able to go through spring (workouts).”

Because of the risk of further injury, Barker likely won’t participate in Kentucky’s annual Blue-White game set for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Commonwealth Stadium. For now, he’s focused on getting his strength back and preparing to compete for the starting job this fall.

“That’s the plan for sure,” Barker said. “(I’m going to) stay here all summer and start the competition at fall camp. I’m making great progress and everything is full steam ahead and getting back into things has been amazing. Now it’s just shaking off the rust and being back out there.”

Spring game: Blue vs. White, 7:30 p.m., Friday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, 98.1 FM WBUL.

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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