LEXINGTON, Ky. — It's the little things you miss, Drew Barker said as he stood behind a podium and spoke to reporters for the first time in seven months.
Yes, monotonous quarterback drills and hanging out in the locker room with all your buddies are things you miss when a back injury ends your sophomore season after three games. Not to mention the doubt that creeps into your mind after a serious back injury threatens your career.
"You always kind of think that in the back of your head. 'I don't know if I'll ever be back to how I was,'" Barker said. "But right now we're making great progress. Everything is full steam ahead."
Full steam ahead, sort of. Barker said he felt 100 percent, but quickly corrected himself to being at "75-80" percent. Still, it was enough for Barker to tell the coaches that he could do some live team activity.
"Before spring break I really wasn’t doing much," Barker said. "I was just doing the position drills. After spring break, we came back and I started doing like 7-on-7s and stuff. I told them, I was like, ‘I feel good, I feel like I could go out there and do some of the live stuff.’ So they sprinkled me in here. Hopefully that’s what the summer, we’re going to work through that, really just getting in there during the team periods to just shake the rust off really.”
"So far, so good. I haven't had any setbacks and everything is going smooth."
For as much progress as Barker has made, he won't be on the field with his teammates on Friday night for Kentucky's spring game. Quarterback coach Darin Hinshaw said the risk of playing Barker in the game outweighed the reward.
"Right now we’re planning on keeping him out,” Hinshaw said. “Just because we don’t want anything crazy to happen. The intensity of the game, all that kind of stuff. He’s done a great job coming back this spring and really getting the rust off and getting reps in practice. He’s been in some scrimmages. We’re really pleased where he’s at.”
Barker said the back pain originally started in May of 2016. It was nothing serious at the time, just a small tweak. But the pain got worse as summer workouts went on. Eventually Barker had to scale back the work he was doing in the offseason. His back was bothering him when fall practice began, but the injury really flared up after a hit in the season-opener against Southern Mississippi.
"I got hit on a fumble and I really just had a ton of shooting pain down my leg, went numb," Barker said. "So that's when it really started. I was just trying to fight through it from that point on, really. I mean, pretty much every hit from that point on was making it worse. I maybe should have said something a little bit earlier, but that was my first opportunity trying to be out there. I just wanted to give it everything I had."
From a physical standpoint, Barker didn't look much different than he did last season. He pointed out that he's actually lost two pounds this offseason. After his surgery in November, Barker's only cardio regiment consisted of walking an hour and a half a day.
His plan is to stay in Lexington for the summer and finish his degree. Barker graduates in August and then plans to enter the MBA program at Kentucky. While here, he'll do his best to compete with Stephen Johnson for the starting quarterback position. It seems unlikely that he'll be able to unseat Johnson at this point.
Johnson led Kentucky to seven wins and its first bowl appearance since 2010 after Barker went down. Regardless, the fact Barker is even on the field is enough for him to appreciate where he is now.
"It's really just all the little things you kind of cherish now that you maybe didn't appreciate before, but now you really don't take anything for granted."