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Saskatchewan Huskies safety Dylan Barker was chosen first overall by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 2008 Canadian Football League draft. (Randy Palmer)
Saskatchewan Huskies safety Dylan Barker was chosen first overall by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 2008 Canadian Football League draft. (Randy Palmer)

Ticats safety Barker excited about comeback Add to ...

Most football players despise thinking ahead to training camp and the twice daily workouts in full pads under a blistering summer sun that await.

Not Dylan Barker.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats sophomore safety is actually looking forward to it, and with good reason. The first player taken in the '08 CFL Canadian college draft spent his entire rookie season on the injured list after breaking his leg in the Ticats final exhibition game.

"I had a lot of confidence at that point and boom, then it (injury) hit me," Barker said. "In football you're going to get these injuries once in a while and I've been fortunate in my career not to be injured and now I've had that injury, and a major one, so hopefully I'm past that.

"Going forward it has made me stronger and given me a lot of motivation for this year and off-season to come back strong like I wanted to and go into camp and fight for that starting job right from the start."

The Ticats had expected the six-foot-three, 210-pound Barker to contribute significantly on special teams last year and also see some playing time at safety. After being injured, Barker, 22, remained in Hamilton to not only rehab his leg but also sit in on defensive meetings and film sessions to get a feel for the off-field life of a pro football player.

That experience, combined with an off-season of weight training, running around playing basketball and racquetball, as well as doing football-specific drills, has Barker upbeat heading into camp.

"I feel much more confident," Barker said. "I stuck around Hamilton last year and that really helped me get to know the guys, the coaches, the CFL game and watch a lot of film.

"I'm going into this camp not feeling half as nervous as I was last year. I feel as if I've been on this team for a few years, I feel comfortable and as if I'm going in there not worrying about being a rookie anymore. That frustration (of being injured) has propelled me forward."

Barker will have to get used to a new defensive co-ordinator this year - Greg Marshall takes over from Denny Creehan - but says at least he's going into camp knowing what to expect.

"Last year, I had no clue," he said. "I walked in and they clunked this playbook that was about four inches thick down on the desk.

"It's unbelievable. You just look at it and can't believe what you're reading. At Saskatchewan, it (playbook) was about an inch thick. We had a very simple defence, we just executed there."

The native of Moose Jaw, Sask., played collegiately at the University of Saskatchewan, making 24 career starts for the Huskies. He earned CIS all-star honours in 2006 and '07 and was selected to play in the '08 East-West Shrine Bowl game.

Barker's rehabilitation included stretching and one-legged squats and stability movements that strengthened his leg and ankle to where he could ultimately resume running again. The past two months Barker has concentrated on becoming quicker.

"I've been doing a lot of running, a lot of quick, speed stuff," he said. "As a defensive back it's all about speed so I have to get out there running.

"I'm not worried about being as big as I can be, I want to be as fast as I can, especially in the CFL game. I learned last year when some guys came into camp a little bit bigger and they just hated it. Right now I'm at 210 pounds and that's a big safety but I feel I've got my speed . . . and I'm still as fast and as agile as I've ever been."

He might not have played last year, but that didn't stop Barker from making an impact with his teammates. He was dubbed "No. 1," by some for being the top pick in the CFL draft, but also "Cruise," by others for his resemblance to actor Tom Cruise.

Barker is more than just a standout football player.

A chemistry major while at Saskatchewan - Barker would one day like to become a dentist - the former Huskies star worked this off-season as a research chemist in Regina. He was also a nominee in 2006 and '07 for the Russ Jackson Award - which honours academic achievement, football skill and citizenship - and named to the Huskies all-academic team in 2004-'05.

He has also excelled in other sports. Barker broke national and provincial records in speedskating - and was considered a solid prospect for Canada's national men's team - and also was a member of the city championship basketball squad in 2003 before capturing a local badminton title the following year.

"Sports were pretty much my life after school," he said. "It was always go, go, go."

Barker's sport of choice as a youth was speedskating, where he competed against the likes of 2008 world champion Denny Morrison, of Fort St. John, B.C. In fact, Barker figured one day he'd be destined for Calgary, where the national team is based and trains.

That is, until he discovered football.

"I excelled at it very quickly and loved it, I loved being out there," Barker said. "I kept doing football and speedskating until Grade 12, then I had to decide.

"I felt going to the U of S and an unbelievable (football) program there as well as a very good school academically and being able to stay closer to home was a no-brainer for me."

Morrison has gone on to become one of the world's top speedskaters and will be a bona fide medal threat at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. Barker said while he wonders about what might've been on the ice, he has no regrets about trading his skates in for football cleats.

"It's neat to see these guys on the national team that I skated against," Barker said. "But I'm loving what I'm doing right now.

"The CFL is an amazing game and as soon as (the season) is done I miss it and the whole off-season I just want to get back out there. I can't say I made a bad choice."

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