By Blake Ells
On Feb. 7, senior athletes from across the country made their college choices known by signing their Letters of Intent on National Signing Day.
Former Spain Park quarterback Braxton Barker accepted an offer to join the Alabama Crimson Tide as a preferred walk-on, a decision that seemed predestined. His father, Jay, led the Tide to a national championship in 1992 and was a member of the 2015 class of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
But Braxton’s decision was carefully made. “It was definitely something that I was leaning toward, but it’s not something that I knew I was going to do the whole time,” Braxton said.
He bypassed scholarship offers to Delta State and Kentucky Wesleyan and possible preferred walk-on opportunities at UAB and Memphis for the chance to earn an opportunity to take snaps for the Tide.
But make no mistake, the decision was his own.
“He’s not following in my footsteps,” Jay said. “He is making his own prints and I have tried to give him advice and just be here for him. I’m excited for him and proud of him for all the hard work he has put in, the sacrifices he has made and just his competitive spirit. And yes, I’m very excited about him choosing Bama!”
Alabama head coach Nick Saban personally extended the offer to the younger Barker when he dropped by Spain Park High School earlier this year.
“He told me that he wanted me to be there, but that I needed to make the best choice for me,” Braxton said. “If it wasn’t there, that was OK, but he really wanted me on that team. It was awesome hearing him say that; for him to come by was really cool.”
While the elder Barker’s experiences didn’t necessarily set the younger’s path, they did guide him. Jay’s familiarity with the recruiting process served as a handbook for his son as the latter made one of the most important and difficult decisions of his life.
“At the end of the day, he loves Bama and wanted to play for coach Saban,” Jay said. “He told coach Saban during their meeting at Bama that this was his dream and he always wanted to put on the crimson jersey. I honestly think after that meeting, Braxton would have said, ‘You had me at hello!’ I’m excited that he pursued his dream and not just a scholarship opportunity he could have had somewhere else. He’s one of those Alabama kids that it means the world to him to get to be a part of Bama football.”
Weighing the Pros and Cons
Braxton discussed the decision at length with not only Jay, but also his mother. They weighed the pros and cons of each opportunity. And while his father’s legacy loomed large over his own football career, he said he never felt pressured to choose the Tide.
“I feel like people expected me to (choose Alabama), but I didn’t feel like I had to do what was expected,” Braxton said. “I felt like I could make whatever choice that I did, and I made the choice that I made and I’m really excited to start the next chapter in my life.”
Beyond the guidance of his mother and father, Braxton also had Spain Park head coach Shawn Raney. That leadership was something with which Jay was always comfortable and for which Braxton was always grateful.
Braxton said Raney made phone calls and sent emails on behalf of all of his players in an effort to give each an opportunity to play at the next level. He credits Raney’s efforts for the opportunities that he and many of his teammates now have.
“He’s been a great coach and role model for them through the years,” Jay said. “Also, (quarterbacks coach) Marty Rozell was a teammate of mine at Hewitt-Trussville and we’ve been friends for over 25 years, so I was excited that one of the brightest minds and quarterback coaches around would be coaching my sons. (Raney and Rozell) are high character people.”
Braxton is leaning toward pursuing a degree in business. He’s not certain when he will join his new teammates and begin the pursuit of his oldest dream, but he’s hopeful that he’ll do it wearing his father’s number 7.
“That would be really cool to see him in a crimson and white number 7 jersey with Barker on the back,” Jay said. ❖