Throughout early to mid-December Kansas Pregame contacted 8-Man football coaches in an effort to name the third annual Top 8 team of seniors for both divisions of 8-Man football in Kansas. After an overwhelming response from coaches, and once all the votes were tallied, 16 players were selected.
This is the 12th of 16 individual player profiles highlighting the Top 8 selections in each division and released in no particular order. Look for more in the coming days.
Holden Barker, RB/LB, 5-9, 190, Colony-Crest
Holden Barker’s time as a high school football player started differently from others on the 8-Man Top 8, instead starting on an 11-Man field for 3A Iola High School. While there, the freshman played in eight games and rushed for 277 yards and five touchdowns to go with 13 tackles.
Iola finished the season 2-7 with all but one of those losses by at least 18 points. That would be Barker’s last losing season of high school football.
After enrolling as a sophomore at Crest High School in Colony, just 15 miles up the road from Iola, Barker’s impact was immediate.
Coming off of a 6-4 record the season prior, the Lancers ran the table through the 2020 regular season as Barker ran the ball 81 times for 784 yards and 19 TDs, good for a 9.7 yards per carry average.
The sophomore also put together a dominant campaign defensively, tallying 88 tackles, 21 tackles-for-loss, five sacks, two pass deflections, three fumble recoveries, and a forced fumble.
“Holden has a great instinct for the ball and makes the tough one-on-one open field tackles,” head coach Chris McAnulty said. “He plays sideline to sideline and finishes plays with a lot of power.”
Colony-Crest didn’t experience anything resembling a close score until the third round of the playoffs where the only loss of the season came against eventual state champs, Hanover, 48-0. Before that, a 56-26 contest in the first round of the playoffs against Wakefield was their closest margin of victory.
In the quarterfinals perennial power Hanover proved to be way too much to handle and left the Lancers at 10-1.
In his junior season, Barker went from being on opposing teams’ radars to having gameplans built around stopping him. The feature back ran the ball 214 times for 2,071 yards and 36 TDs, and his continuation of 9.7 yards per carry from the year prior may have been his most impressive stat of all. Meanwhile at linebacker, Barker recorded 67 tackles, two sacks, six fumble recoveries, and a forced fumble.
“Holden’s impact on the offensive side of the ball is that he’s a threat to turn a ‘no gain play’ into a game changing play,” McAnulty said. “Holden refuses to go down and is rarely tackled to the ground, if the defense doesn’t play to the whistle he’s going to make you pay.”
Despite their junior standout’s sensational season, the Lancers didn’t match 2020’s success, finishing 5-4, with all four losses in games Barker averaged less than 10 yards per carry.
Barker and Colony-Crest went into the 2022 season bolstered by not only the ability, but also the leadership role taken on by their All-State senior.
“Holden had a more vocal leadership role this year, and he did a great job of being that leader,” McAnulty said. “Holden has always been more of a quiet lead by example type of player in the past, but this year he really stepped up and spoke up when the team needed him to.”
After the first five games of the season Barker had rushed for 795 yards and 18 TDs on 13.5 yards per carry to go with 57 tackles, four sacks, and two forced fumbles. The Lancers were looking strong all the while, holding a 4-1 record, with their lone loss coming against one of the top 8-Man I teams in the state, Chase County, 70-54.
However, during a Wednesday practice following their 60-14 week five win against St. Paul, Barker suffered a broken hand while stiff arming his brother Jensen on what seemed like a routine play. The injury kept Barker out for the next two week and forced him to finish the season with a cast on.
The Lancers managed to win their next two games without their senior leader, who returned in Week 8 just in time to face a tough three-game stretch. Colony-Crest dropped the first in a 64-28 loss against a talented Lebo team and Barker was held in check, gaining just 32 yards.
The next game, a first round playoff matchup with Norwich, saw Barker get closer to his top form as he rushed for 157 yards and three TDs on 15 yards per carry, along with recording five tackles in a 60-40 win.
In what would be his last high school game, a second round playoff game with Osborne, Barker rushed 10 times for 61 yards and a TD and made a herculean effort on the defensive side of the ball with 21 tackles. Despite losing the game 34-18, Barker made an impression.
“Barker had a big cast on his arm which limited his ability to catch the ball and almost forced him to only run to one side,” Osborne head coach Steve Tiernan said. “With that being said he was a handful for us to try to stop. He was as good of a linebacker as we saw all year. He made plays sideline to sideline. High energy, tough football player, deserving of any award he receives.”
After Barker wraps up his senior season he is considering playing college football, but at the moment has his plans wide open.
“What the program is going to miss most on the field is his effort,” McAnulty said. “Holden is going to outwork everyone. He wore down defenses and just gets stronger as the game goes on. The point of the game when both teams are tired and slowing down a bit Holden is speeding up and pushing himself even harder.”