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Energized Barker begins coaching comeback

As the sun rises over the Sandia Mountains, Hope Christian assistant Kevin Barker, right, works with players during an early Friday morning workout at Vista del Norte Park. Barker, a former Manzano and Sandia head coach, was out of coaching last year for the first time since 1988. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Fernando Salinas decided that familiarity would be a helpful idea once he became a head football coach for the first time.

And as he begins his first season at Hope Christian, he has surrounded himself with faces he knows.

They include that of his former boss, Kevin Barker.

Nearly 14 months after Barker tearfully announced his resignation as Sandia’s head coach, he has returned to the prep football scene as the Huskies’ offensive line coach.

“I missed it immensely,” Barker, 56, said. “I’ve been around football for 45 of my (56) years.”

A heart condition, first detected in February of last year and officially diagnosed on Juneteenth of 2019, forced Barker to step down after 19 seasons with the Matadors. He had resigned in April of last year, exiting with a 160-125 career record as a head coach at Sandia and Manzano.

“I’m blessed to have him,” Salinas said. “And to have that kind of knowledge … he’s a future hall of fame coach with all the experience he’s had.”

Still, last fall was the first time since 1988 that Barker did not coach during a football season.

A masked Kevin Barker, right, works with a Hope Christian player on Friday. Barker is the former head coach at Manzano and Sandia, and how he is a Huskies assistant. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

“I went to Sandia’s scrimmage, and I went to their senior night,” Barker said. “Those were the only two games I saw.”

With a clean bill of health from his doctor just several weeks ago – although he does take half a dozen different types of pills each day – Barker felt the itch to return to football.

“Actually, when the Hope job came open, I had called him, asking him if he was interested (in applying),” Salinas said. “He was missing it. I said, ‘It’s a great opportunity for you.’ He said he wasn’t ready yet.”

Barker told Salinas that he should put in for the job instead, which he did. A few weeks after Salinas was hired, Barker got the green light on his health. He conferred with his family, then Salinas, and became a member of Hope’s coaching staff.

“I was just gonna be a consultant,” Barker said. “I didn’t have my clearance yet. I was gonna help him with the first-year stuff, and really not go to the field.”

Barker – equipped these days with a watch that actually takes his EKG, which he texts regularly to his doctor – was back out with the Huskies last week during their return to workouts.

He has dropped about 30 pounds since last year and said he feels rejuvenated.

“I have a lot more energy,” he said. “I feel good, as good as I’ve felt in the last decade.”

Four current Hope coaches, including Salinas, were assistants at Sandia under Barker. Now the group, five in all, has been reunited with a program that last year won the Class 3A state title.

It gives Salinas, who worked on Barker’s staff at Sandia for 14 years, an experienced, savvy football mind at his disposal. Barker in his head coaching career took both the Monarchs and the Matadors to state championship games.

“I thought it was important to have him around, especially because of our friendship,” Salinas said. “I wanted to return the favor he had given me so long ago.”

For his part, Barker said he’s perfectly at ease scaling back on duties and serving as an assistant coach.

“With me and him, it’s like, ‘You get (the job), I’m there,’ ” Barker said. “It’s gonna be fun for me. I always thought I’d be a good assistant. But it’s Fernando’s program, and I love coaching the O-line. I love putting together that unit.”

The last year he coached football without being the head coach was 1992, the year before he was hired at Manzano.

This is surely going to be a challenge at Hope, at least early on, as the Huskies graduated a large and talented class. Only three seniors return from last year’s state champions.

“I definitely feel like I’m getting back to my roots,” Barker said. “… I was just happy to get back on the field, smell the grass. It’s good to see the kids, and all the coaches. We were like a family for all those years.”

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