Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 9/6/12
MINNEAPOLIS One catch.That's all Gophers wide receiver A.J. Barker had to show for everything he'd been through in three years on the University of Minnesota campus; all the extra hours he spent in the weight room as he tried to move up the depth chart proved to be futile. The former De La Salle standout walked on at Minnesota for the chance to take the field as a Gopher and represent his home state. After taking a redshirt season in 2009, Barker appeared in just four games as a freshman in 2010. During his first season, he caught only one pass, a 17-yarder against Iowa.That would be the only time Barker found the stat sheet in two seasons. Hamstring injuries limited him to just two games last year, but he never caught a pass. "It was definitely a struggle at times, but it was something that I had a lot of faith in myself," Barker said. "My family had a lot of faith in me. I had a lot of faith in the people around me, my friends. I just kept working, kept going to work every day."That hard work finally paid off last Thursday when Barker had a bit of a breakout game against UNLV. The junior caught three passes for a team-high 101 yards as he helped the Gophers beat the Rebels in three overtimes. In doing so, he tripled his reception total from his previous two seasons and showed he can be a threat in Minnesota's offense, giving MarQueis Gray's another weapon. Barker also saw action on special teams, returning a punt for nine yards."He stepped up a lot," Gray said of Barker. "Like I said all summer, he's been one of those guys who hasn't been talked about as much. But he stepped up Thursday, and he's going to be able to do that again this week."Indeed, Barker's name was lost in the shuffle during discussions of Minnesota's wide receivers. Many focused on the veteran Brandon Green along with the talented freshman duo of Andre McDonald and Jamel Harbison. In Thursday's opener, Harbison tore his ACL and will miss the entire 2012 season. McDonald, meanwhile, was one of nine Gophers receivers with a catch he caught one pass for seven yards.Only one receiver, sophomore Devin Crawford-Tufts, caught more passes than Barker on Thursday. No one came close to matching the 101 yards amassed by Barker, which included a game-high 40-yard reception. Gophers fans may have been surprised to see Barker's production, but his teammates and coaches surely weren't."I said (this fall), A.J. Barker's really done a nice job in camp. He's gotten better and better.' He played very well," said Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill. Right now, he's done some good, good things. I'm very pleased with A.J. It's the first time he's been healthy since I've been here. But he can run. He's got good speed, good hands. It was encouraging to see him play on game day like he did."Added offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover: "That's really not something that was surprising to us, just because he's been a guy that kind of stayed under the radar and did his thing. We have a lot of confidence in him."Given everything Barker has been through coming to Minnesota as a walk-on, sitting on the bottom of the depth chart and missing time due to injuries he knows he can't let up after one impressive performance. He'll have a chance to showcase his talents Saturday against New Hampshire during the Gophers' home opener at TCF Bank Stadium. "You can't go off of just what everyone is talking about," Barker said. "I've always felt I had a chance to compete at this level. I still have a long ways to go with that. I'm not there by any means where I want to be. Just keep moving forward, keep working."Barker still has his walk-on status. He said he's not worried about when or if he might be offered a scholarship by the Gophers. In the meantime, he just wants to do whatever he can to help Minnesota win.He did that last Thursday, and the Gophers are hoping Barker will continue to make big plays on offense all season."That's one thing about Coach Kill is that I think being a walk-on himself, he could care less," Limegrover said. "He tells it all the time, he says, I don't give two shakes who you are. If you're playing and you're going to contribute, we're going to get you in there if you're making plays.' A.J.'s an example of that."Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter.
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