Quarterback Jay Barker, who spent the last three seasons with the CFL's Toronto Argonauts, has joined the XFL's Birmingham Thunderbolts.

Barker signed with the Thunderbolts on Sunday and participated in the XFL club's training camp in Orlando later that day.

The move is a homecoming for Barker, 28, a Birmingham native who led the Alabama Crimson Tide to the 1992 U.S. college football championship.

"Just to have the chance to play again at Legion Field (where Bolts play) is exciting," Barker said. "It's also going to be great to play at home in front of friends and family.

"At first I was a little skeptical about the XFL, about whether it would be legitimate football because of the ties to the WWF. But (Bolts general manager) Tim Berryman and coach Gerry DiNardo made me feel comfortable and assured me that the football is real."

For Berryman, a native of Burlington, Ont. and former CFL player, landing Barker is a major coup.

"You have to understand that in Alabama, Jay Barker is a legend," Berryman recently told ctvsportsnet.com. "Jay is to the people of Alabama what Paul Henderson was to Canadians after he scored the winning goal against the Russians in 1972."

Barker was free to sign with Birmingham after being released by the Argos.

Paul Masotti, Toronto's new general manager, said the move was necessary given the club's abundance of players at the position.

Toronto, last in the East Division with a 7-10-1 record last season, ended the year with six quarterbacks -- veterans Barker, Jimmy Kemp, Kerwin Bell and youngsters Greg Hill, O.T. Sampson and Steve Brinbaum.

Barker and Kemp have since been released and there are reports Bell could be also be let go to allow him to play with the XFL's Orlando Rage.

Bell, 35, played his college football at the University of Florida.

"We can't afford to have all three guys financially so the idea will be to re-sign two of them once the XFL season ends," Masotti said from Atlanta, where he is attending a coaches conference.

"I'm not surprised Jay has gone to the XFL because I knew there was interest there."

Barker wants to return to Toronto after the XFL season ends in mid-April and Masotti plans to speak with Barker once he completes his XFL commitments.

Barker becomes the third member of last year's Argos' squad to go to the XFL.

Offensive lineman Jerry Crafts is with the Los Angeles Xtreme while linebacker Fred Perry is working out with the Thunderbolts.

Other former Argos looking to land spots in the fledgling spring league, which kicks off its inaugural season Feb. 3, include offensive lineman Mike Kiselak (San Francisco), defensive back Clifton Abraham (Los Angeles) and quarterback Jim Ballard (Orlando).

Barker enjoyed a stellar collegiate career, amassing an impressive 34-2-1 record as Alabama's starter, including a 22-game win streak between 1991 and '93.

In 1994, Barker captured the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award, given annually to the top senior quarterback in U.S. college football.

Barker was selected in the fifth round of the '95 NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers, but was released during training camp.

After failing to catch on with New England and Carolina, Barker signed with Toronto prior to the '98 CFL season.

Barker emerged as the Argos' starter in '98 and over the next two seasons appeared in 38 games (36 regular season, two playoffs) with Toronto before missing much of the 2000 campaign with injuries.

Barker has completed 269 of 472 passes in his CFL career for 3,433 yards with 11 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.

By Dan Ralph