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Notebook: Signee Barker's role in building 2014 class 'critical'

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Quarterback Drew Barker with Mark Stoops on a visit to Lexington this fall. (UK Athletics) Quarterback Drew Barker with Mark Stoops on a visit to Lexington this fall. (UK Athletics)
By the nature of his position and his ranking according to most recruiting services, Drew Barker is viewed as the centerpiece of Kentucky's highly rated 2014 recruiting class.

A prolific high-school passer and adept runner, the Burlington, Ky., native projects as UK's quarterback of the future. But as good as Barker could be down the road, he's already proven invaluable as the lynchpin of Mark Stoops' first full class.

"He's played a critical role in this," Stoops said. "He really has, just with first of all with his commitment to us early in the process. And he did that to help solidify the rest of his class and help us recruit the rest of his class, and he's done that."

As soon as he chose UK over South Carolina -- and really even before that -- Barker went about the business of building relationships with classmates throughout the country who were considering joining him in Lexington. Many followed him and Kentucky is positioned to reel in its best class ever come Signing Day.

On Wednesday, Stoops praised the personality of the group, comparing camaraderie that has already been built to a brotherhood. That has a lot to do with Barker.

"It just shows he's just a very mature young man and he's got great leadership skills and obviously those are important qualities when you're looking at a quarterback," Stoops said.

Those qualities and more will position Barker to compete for playing time this spring. The 6-foot-3, 217-pounder graduated from high school in December and will enroll in classes in January.

"Drew, you know, coming in at mid-year is different than a regular high-school kid coming in obviously, coming in, in the fall," Stoops said. "So he's going to go through offseason conditioning. Again, going through spring ball."

Due to the staggered practice schedule, Stoops says the spring is a better time to learn than fall camp. Instead of the daily grind of practice after practice, Barker will typically have off days during which he can process all the information being thrown at him.

"I think that's very big, and I think it's big at quarterback," Stoops said. "So, I'm excited to get him in here and get him rolling. I expect him to come in from day one and compete for the starting job, and that's why we recruited him."

When spring practice does begin in a few months, the competition will begin between Barker and returners Maxwell Smith, Jalen Whitlow, Patrick Towles and Reese Phillips.

"I think any of us who have been around football would like to walk in here and say, 'Yeah, that's my guy,' " Stoops said. "We're not in that position, and that's the way it is. We'll go back to the drawing boards and open it up in spring. We've got some new additions, and we'll see where that takes us."

Stoops not slowing down in second year

Stoops has hardly had time to breathe since he was named head coach.

In his first months, he moved his family, hired a staff and rushed to put together a recruiting class. As soon as that was done, it was time for spring practice. After playing catchup and laying the foundation for the 2014 class over the summer, fall camp and his first season began.

That's exactly the way he wants it.

"So I've been going 100 miles an hour for a year now, and now this is the first week you can really decompress and put your feet on the ground and I'm pretty bummed out about that to be honest with you," Stoops said. "I'd rather keep going."

Even so, Stoops admits it's nice to have settled in.

"Obviously the comfort level is much greater, it's much more comfortable this year than it was at this time last year," Stoops said. "I was just trying to find my way around town this time last year."

Now officially in his second calendar year in Lexington, he's still finding plenty of ways to keep busy. He's also just as excited about the future as he was last December.

"Wrapping up 2013, obviously disappointed in the wins and losses, but very pleased and thought we made progress in a lot of areas," Stoops said. "We are excited about recruiting and the offseason and moving forward with wrapping up this recruiting class and moving forward with the program. Some good things are happening right now with the renovations getting started and all those good things."

Dupree, Smith return to solidify pass rush
Defensive ends Za'Darius Smith and Bud Dupree will return for their senior seasons. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Defensive ends Za'Darius Smith and Bud Dupree will return for their senior seasons. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
They won't fax in letters of intent, but UK's 2014 recruiting class got what Stoops would call its biggest two commitments in Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith.

"This past week, probably two of our biggest splashes in recruiting really came from Bud and Za'Darius with both of those guys announcing they were coming back," Stoops said.

The two defensive ends announced they will bypass the NFL Draft and return for their senior years. Dupree and Smith were UK's second- and third-leading tacklers in 2013, combining for 120 tackles -- 16 of which came for loss -- and 13 sacks.

"That was big for us and very important for our defense and team and leadership to have those guys return," Stoops said. "I am excited for them and to help them improve their stock in the draft the following year."

Stoops proud as FSU prepares for title game

All year, Stoops has watched as his former colleagues and players at Florida State have put together a dream 2013 season.

"Very happy for Florida State," Stoops said. "Very proud of those guys. I have an awful lot of good friends down there, and just love the way they play."

The No. 1 Seminoles are in the midst of preparations for the BCS National Championship, where they will take on No. 2 Auburn. As much as Stoops might like to see the Southeastern Conference extend its title streak to eight, he has to root for FSU.

"I'm sorry, I've got to go against the SEC on this one," Stoops said. "I've got too many close relationships with the people there and certainly the players there. I wish them the best of luck."

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