Quarterback Kaleb Barker graduated from Troy University in 2019. He would go on to be a victim of the covid marred 2020 draft class in which pro-days, and combines were a long forgotten dream. The nightmare that once unfolded for Barker as he wasn’t able to hear his name called in the NFL draft, has since started to sting a bit less. It certainly helps when you get to experience a Championship Victory in professional football, even if it isn’t the NFL.
IFL a League of Opportunity
One thing that talent evaluators tend to overly discount when it comes to players is previous indoor football experience. When you look at the quarterback position, this should be the exact opposite. What do coaches want in a quarterback?
- Makes Decisions Quickly
- Fits the Ball in tight windows
- Poise in the Pocket
- Enough Mobility to run when needed
When you look at the indoor game, these traits are directly affected by the condensed field Indoor Football presents. With a field that measures virtually half the size, and an internal passing clock that needs to match, quarterbacks are forced to develop quickly in the IFL, NAL, and FCF. With every league being a sink or swim affair, quarterbacks tasked with the indoor game are at an immediate disadvantage if they don’t possess accuracy, football IQ, and the ability to pre-snap read.
Kaleb Barker spent four seasons at Troy University under head coach Neal Brown. Brown was a noted offensive mind, known as a quarterback guru. Back in 2004 Brown started coaching quarterbacks for the first time, despite his background as a wide receiver in college. Aside from three seasons in which he coached wide receivers, he spent the next 15 years coaching quarterbacks, running an offense, or an entire team.
This background certainly seemed to help Barker develop over his four seasons. Barker had joined Troy as somewhat of a project. He spent his first two seasons as the back-up, barely seeing the field. He was listed as having played 13 games during this stretch but he attempted just 17 passes. It wasn’t until his Junior year that he finally started to get a chance.
Barker would sit behind a name that Spring Football fans know well. This man who got his first taste of indoor football with the Fan Controlled Football League in 2022. This is of course former XFL QB Brandon Silvers. Silvers led Troy to back-to-back bowl games in 2016 and 2017 before graduating.
Competition Drives Progress
As a junior Barker’s path to playing time had been significantly helped by Silvers leaving the school. With five other underclassmen on the roster there was no promise he would get the full time job. There was a tremendous amount of turnover at the quarterback position outside of just Silvers leaving.
With a total of eight quarterbacks on the roster, it was expected we would see a few look for other opportunities. We also knew that Silvers, and Jalen Jones would move on after their senior seasons. What we didn’t know would happen, is that just four of the eight quarterbacks would return. With Joe Vairo a redshirt sophomore, and Kade Young a freshman in 2017 returning behind Kaleb Barker and Sawyer Smith.
Time to Shine
Despite Barker getting the playing time in previous seasons as the back-up to Silvers, Smith was very much in the competition for Troy in 2018. In fact Smith would go on to play in more games than Barker. Smith who was once listed as a running back in 2016, would go on to play 13 games. He completed 62.9% of his passes for 1,669 yards 14 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions adding 74 carries for 191 yards and 1 touchdown.
Meanwhile Barker earned the start and played in six games. During those six games, Barker racked up a 73% completion rate, averaged 8 yards per attempt, throwing for 1,013 yards, 10 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He seems to be a bit more mobile than the former running back Smith, running 57 times for 261 yards and 3 touchdowns. In half the games, Barker managed to score nearly nearly the same amount of touchdowns as Smith. However after just six games, Barker suffered a knee injury sidelining him for the rest of the year.
Heading into 2019, Smith saw the writing on the wall. This was Barker’s team to lose as a senior. Smith opted to transfer to Kentucky, where he was relegated to the back-up role. Barker took the job and ran with it never looking back to being a back-up at the college level. As a senior, he posted his best season yet.
In his final season of college, Barker finally was the starting quarterback of his team, and knew he was up against the eight ball if he wanted to prove himself before leaving school. Using this as motivation, he played in 12 games. He would rack up a very solid season and showcase his ability as a passer with a 65% completion rate on 460 passing attempts, averaged 7.9 yards per attempt, 30 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions, adding 86 carries for 137 yards and 2 touchdowns.
2020 NFL Draft Class
The 2020 NFL Draft class got burned by a force of nature no one on the planet could control. The pandemic that swept across the world changed the football world as we knew it and sent ripples through draft classes for years to come. Barker wasn’t able to showcase his athleticism in the proper way, and it really wouldn’t be put on display until the 2022 season with the Northern Arizona Wranglers.
Barker ultimately was away from the game for two full seasons until signing with the Indoor Football League for the 2022 season. The Northern Arizona Wranglers saw something they liked in Barker, and had a plan for him as their starting quarterback.
Indoor Football League Comes Calling
With two years of football wasted waiting on a deal, Barker finally was given the chance he needed to show what he could do. As can be expected however, Barker had some rust to knock off after two years away from live game action, and having never played Arena Football in the past. With a new coach, and a new quarterback, Northern Arizona had hopes of putting their 2021 season in the rearview mirror as fast as possible.
Head Coach Les Moss, who has primarily coached on the defensive side of the ball, knows the value of a dual threat quarterback. This prompted him to stick with Barker through his struggles, and bank on a resurgence. Boy did Barker pay off this faith.
From Worst to First
I don’t think anyone would blame you if you didn’t think the Wranglers would be contenders in 2022. After all their particular situation was interesting. They had been added to the IFL prior to the 2021 season, and promptly embarrassed themselves on their way to a 1-13 record. They decided to move on to a new coach. However their move to hire Les Moss after a 6-6 season in Iowa as their head coach, on the surface wasn’t as inspiring as fans likely had hoped at the time.
If the Moss and Barker pairing wasn’t what the fans wanted at the time, it became what they needed down the line. With Moss came long time confidant and friend Rob Keefe as the assistant head coach/defensive coordinator, long time arena football player and coach Rod Windsor as the offensive coordinator, and Dave Moran was retained as an assistant coach, and director of player personnel. These men had a direct hand in the success that came for NAZ.
Claiming the Clout he Deserves
As a quarterback it can be hit or miss as to how much love the fans give you based on your name recognition. In just one year’s time Kaleb Barker went from far off memory of college football, to a starting quarterback on a professional team that just won a Championship. If that isn’t the most amazing turnaround for a player I’m not sure what is.
As mentioned before Barker never got to showcase his athleticism in college like he would in 2022 under Moss, and Windsor. Windsor allowed Barker to use his feet to lead this team, nearly as much as he used his arm. By season’s end he completed 198 of 345 passes or 57.3% for 2,236 yards, 49 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. While adding 172 carries for 812 yards and another 17 touchdowns. This placed him 2nd in the league in rushing yards, and 3rd in carries, while also placing in the top five in most major passing categories.
The quarterback play in the IFL has made one thing clear, the league loves mobile quarterbacks. Of the top five rushers in the league, four are quarterbacks. Many of these same players will receive looks from leagues like the USFL or XFL as the largest source, beneath their stature, of American Football Talent in the country. Mobility is something the USFL put a premium on, and I expect the XFL to do the same. With DaQuan Neal, and Ben Holmes getting looks in consecutive seasons, more IFL quarterbacks will begin to get chances with the XFL on the horizon.
All College Stats courtesy of Troy University website.