ORONO — Steven Barker likes to go fast — whether chasing receivers on the football field or driving his turbo-charged Subaru WRX.
During his five-plus years at the University of Maine, Barker has experienced some breakdowns in the form of injuries.
This season, a healthy Barker is again enjoying life in the fast lane as a starting cornerback for the Black Bears.
“It feels like now I’m right where I should be,” said Barker, who received a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA for a sixth season of athletic eligibility.
“I really wanted to play as long as I could,” said the 24-year-old from Teaneck, N.J. “When they said I got the year back, I was super excited.”
Barker is starting at cornerback again after earning All-Colonial Athletic Association third-team honors last season. He made 48 tackles with three interceptions and ranked third in the league with 13 passes defended.
“He’s come a long way in growth, maturity and performance on the field,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove. “He’s our field corner and a guy we count on defensively tremendously.”
Barker made five tackles in last week’s opener against Albany. He has restored himself to full health, finally getting out of the “shop’’ after two shoulder surgeries that cost him nearly two full seasons.
While he was in good shape last fall, Barker re-committed himself to making sure he was getting every ounce of horsepower out of his 5-foot-10, 190-pound machine.
“I didn’t miss a workout in the summertime,’’ said Barker, who trained in Orono with his teammates. “I was up here with (strength) coach (Dan) Nickel, busting my butt.”
Now that he’s healthy and strong, Barker maintains a pedal-to-the-metal mentality.
“I literally play every play like it’s my last,” he said. “Even on the practice field, you may be hurt tomorrow and be done. I’m out there going hard.”
Barker was born in Jamaica but emigrated to the United States at age 2 with older sister Suzie and their father, Cecil.
As a youngster, he developed a love of shiny, suped-up cars. During high school, he worked nights and saved up to buy a canary-yellow Mitsubishi Eclipse with a standard transmission.
“I didn’t know how to drive a stick, but I learned,” said Barker, who fitted the car with many upgraded features.
When Barker came to UMaine, he left the car at home with his then-girlfriend. The car was stolen and crashed.
“That was all the money I saved from high school. It was gone,” he said, explaining he only carried liability insurance.
On the field, Barker had options coming out of Bergen County Tech in Teterboro, N.J. Massachusetts, Richmond, Hofstra and Maine wanted him.
Barker’s recruiting visit to Orono was his first, and last. When UMaine’s Kevin McMahan found out he was a car fanatic, he steered Barker to teammate Montell Owens.
“He was a really cool dude. The fact he was so into cars made me want to come here,” said Barker, who still talks cars with Owens, a member of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.
After parking at UMaine, Barker had trouble staying between the lines.
He earned a spot in the cornerback rotation as a true freshman in 2006. Three games in, an injury to his left shoulder ended his season.
Barker underwent surgery and came back in 2007, but had lingering problems. He played in three games and wound up trying to rest and rehab.
The next year, Barker didn’t make it through training camp.
“I couldn’t do it any more. I would fall and it I would hurt,” he said.
He had a second procedure to repair the labrum and missed the ’08 season. Barker contributed by shooting game video.
He returned last season rested and ready.
“He’s fought through the injuries, battled, done the things he’s needed to do to get back on the field,” Cosgrove said.
“He went to Nebraska his first game in college and played in the game,” he added. “That’s pretty significant when you think of that bridge of time and where he’s been, what he’s done and how he’s grown.”
Barker credits his resolve to his dad, who raised his two children on his own. He doesn’t miss a UMaine game.
“I love my dad more than anything,” Barker said. “He never gave up on me and my sister. He’s one of my fighting forces.”
Barker is working on two undergraduate degrees, one in kinesiology and physical education, the other in child development and family relations. He eventually hopes to become a school administrator.
In the short term, he wants to help the Bears on their drive toward a strong finish in the CAA — and hopefully beyond.
“I want something to show for it,” Barker said of six seasons in Orono. “I really want to win.”
The Bears, who dropped their opener to Albany 3-0, take on Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J., Saturday at 1 p.m.