Kennett’s Barker and Tuk to play for Division I football programs02/07/2023 11:31AM ● By Richard Gaw
Photo by Richard L. Gaw Kennett High School senior Connor Tuk, left, signed a letter of commitment on Feb. 2 to play football at the United States Military Academy. His teammate Ryan Barker, right, is headed to Penn State University this fall, to play on the nationally-ranked Nittany Lions football team.
By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer
For the past four seasons of Ches-Mont League football, Kennett High School seniors Ryan Barker and Connor Tuk played their home games at Kennett Stadium, before crowds as large as 1,500.
On Sept. 2 against visiting West Virginia University, Barker will enter the playing field at Beaver Stadium as a member of the Penn State football team, before a crowd that is likely to be more than 106,500.
On Dec. 9, Tuk will be playing in his first Army-Navy game as a member of the West Point Cadets football team in front of a national television audience and 65,000 fans at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
The scenarios of their respective destinations will mark not only a light-year difference from their playing days at Kennett High School, but history in the making, as Barker and Tuk will become the first Blue Demons to play football at the Division I level.
Barker’s introduction to football came at the expense of his love for soccer, when just before his freshman year, he was spotted by a school custodian kicking 50-yard field goals at Kennett Stadium. The custodian contacted Kennett head coach Lance Frazier about Barker, which promptly turned into a four-year career as the team’s punter and kicker.
The 6’3” Barker, who committed to Penn State as a preferred walk-on last June and plans to study finance and accounting at the university, said he is mentally prepared to face the staggering pressure of a Big 10 schedule and stadiums with seating capacities of more than 100,000 – as a member of a team that was ranked #11th nationally in 2022 and played in this year’s Rose Bowl.
“I’ve always considered myself pretty calm under pressure and have played in front of thousands in soccer games, but Beaver Stadium is one of a kind and it will definitely take some adjusting, but that’s what I hope to learn during my first year,” Barker said. “My dream has not only been to play for Penn State but to eventually have a chance to play in the NFL, and special teams coordinator (Stacy) Collins and head coach James Franklin are going to give me the best chance that I can possibly have.”
For the 6’ 4”, 315-pound Tuk, choosing West Point is a guarantee that he will get to participate in perhaps college football’s most-storied rivalry.
“I chose West Point because it is a prestigious school, and as far as football, you can’t get much bigger than the annual Army-Navy game,” said Tuk, who is penciled in to play offensive guard for the Cadets. “It’s a great atmosphere there and I’m excited to become a part of it.”
For Tuk, who will be majoring in kinesiology with the aspiration to become a strength and conditioning coach, preparing for the upcoming season has already begun. Scheduled to report to West Point for summer workouts in early June, Tuk is working with a personal trainer and an offensive line coach, and is following the training manual he received from the Army football program.
Tuk will be joining a West Point team that finished 6-6 in 2022 and will face a schedule this year that is dotted with perennial powerhouses Syracuse, LSU, Boston College and Air Force. He will be busy; Tuk will be coached by new offensive coordinator Drew Thatcher and become a part of Army’s triple-option offense, which has helped place the team among the nation’s rushing leaders in recent years and earned it five bowl appearances.
Frazier said that what makes Barker and Tuk worthy of Division I-level play derives from who they are not just on the field, “but who they are as people.”
“It provides a great foundation for success and growth,” he said. “It shows that they are willing to be led, and that they are willing to apply coach-like attributes and apply those attributes to the team.
“This is a game of height, weight, speed and strength and so when you look at Barker and Tuk, you want those guys to get off the bus first, because they have that prototypical look and build.”
Frazier said that elevating two players to the top tier of college football is not only a milestone for a program that finished 7-0 in the Ches-Mont American Division last season, but a testament to the commitment of all of its players.
“It’s because of their willingness to get better, to take direction from the coaching staff and do all of the little things that no one ever sees,” he said. “Our guys really embody that preparation part. It’s what we have to do to be competitive, but it’s what’s needed if you’re going to play at the next level.
“I think our guys have taken the lead from us, so hopefully this says to college coaches that they should not only believe what they see on film, but know that they’re going to get a special player once they get there.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].