When Zakye Barker would cry as an infant, his father Zach would flip on the TV and try to find a football game.
“I’d cry all day, but when he’d turn on the TV and put on football I’d stop crying,” Barker said. “It was like I knew what was going on. So once I turned four they were like, ‘Well, we have to put you in football.’ I was all for it even though I couldn’t start until I was six.”
It’s been Barker’s opponents at Georgia powerhouse Norcross High School who’ve been shedding a tear over the last two seasons. The 5-foot-11, 228-pound linebacker has racked up over 300 tackles in helping the Blue Devils to 19 victories. Barker’s play has earned him scholarship offers from more than 10 Football Bowl Subdivision programs entering his senior campaign.
East Carolina, however, became Barker’s choice on July 1 over the likes of Air Force, Army, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Charlotte, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Navy and Tulane.
A strong relationship was built with the ECU coaching staff over a courtship that started with a scholarship offer back in February.
“I took into consideration with each school I spoke with how I was able to communicate to a coach or anybody on the staff,” Barker said. “That was really important to me. I found at East Carolina I just felt real good when I was up there twice how the coaching staff had a plan for me, and they laid it out for me.”
Barker is entering his fourth season in one of Georgia’s largest prep programs. Norcross is located in the Atlanta metro area in Gwinnett County, which is home to 23 high schools. More than 100 players are usually part of the football program at Norcross, and the Blue Devils graduated 40 seniors from the 2020 squad. Twenty-two of those will be playing college football at some level this season, including linebacker Jalen Garner to Houston.
It’s a competitive environment in which Barker stood out almost immediately, according to Norcross coach Keith Maloof.
“I knew he was going to be special by watching him in the ninth grade,” Maloof said. “Then he came up his 10th grade year and started for us. He’s done nothing but flourish these last two years and made a name for himself.
“You won’t find many kids who have his work ethic and works as hard as he does. He’s had to overcome some people talking about his size. He’s 5-11. But if you don’t even look at how big he is you’d say, ‘Heck! He’s the best football player in the state.’ ”
Barker made a strong case for that title with two highly productive varsity seasons. As a sophomore, he collected 152 total tackles (99 solo) and two tackles for loss. He followed that up with 155 tackles (103 solo), 37 tackles for loss and eight sacks as a junior to earn first-team All-Gwinnett County, all region and honorable mention Class 7A All-State.
As a junior, Barker recorded 10 or more tackles in eight of Norcross’ 14 games. He amassed a season-high of 18 in a 23-20 victory against Mill Creek, seven of which were behind the line of scrimmage.
“Physical, aggressive, downhill, and sideline to sideline is how I play,” Barker said. “When people watch my tape I want them to say it looks like I have a magnet attached to my head that’s attracted to the football. That’s how I play and one of the things I worked on going into my junior year was that I always wanted to be in the frame for the camera. I always wanted to be a guy around the football and an annoying defender.”
Barker is on track to graduate in December and enroll at East Carolina next January. Maloof believes he’ll be ready to contribute immediately for the Pirates.
“Some kids get scared to be in big (high school) programs,” Maloof said. “But if you want to play at the next level you’ve got to play in a program like this because it gets you ready for East Carolina. That kid will walk on your field and be ready to play. I promise you based on what he’s done here and how he’s handled himself.”
Barker is one of 13 players who have already made verbal commits to ECU’s recruiting Class of 2022. He is currently the lone linebacker in the group.