Parker, who enrolled at Clemson in January on a football scholarship, is the latest two-sport athlete to grace the playing fields for the Clemson Tigers. The Jacksonville, Fla., native has spent his spring bouncing from the football practice fields behind the Jervey Athletic Center to the baseball playing field at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
"It's just always the way it has been growing up," Parker said. "I've always played these two sports and really haven't done anything else. When it comes to sports, this is nothing new for our family."
And he's right.
Parker's younger siblings are also heavy into athletics and his dad, Carl Parker – a high school football coach – was a football and baseball star at Vanderbilt University in the late 1980s. His dad even went on to play six seasons in the NFL as a wide receiver.
But the Parker family's love for sports doesn't just touch their lives. It also reaches out to others, and those others live thousands of miles away in Northern Alaska. In a little tiny town that has just over 4,000 residents, Kyle Parker's mother, Cathy, gave the town of Barrow a gift that she hopes will give their kids the opportunity to do what her son is doing at Clemson.
A life-changing moment
It was just another day at her Jacksonville home when Cathy Parker sat on the couch and watched ESPN's SportsCenter with here family. But this was the morning she decided to change part of her world without knowing she was going to do so.
In the midst of watching SportsCenter, Parker's attention was caught when she began watching Wayne Drehs' piece on Barrow. The story focused on its high school football program which was implemented in order to reverse high teen suicide rates, accelerated dropout rates and increased teen drug use.
The terrain in Barrow is harsh. Located in the northern most part of our planet, the sun never sets in the summer and in the winter there is no sunlight. Because of this, there is no grass or trees to be seen, and yards and playing fields are nothing more than hard clay mixed in with rocks and gravel.
With the wind chill sometimes reaching 110 degrees below zero, many can see why the people in this small town that live in these depressing conditions, especially teenagers, sometimes become down and relegate themselves to alcohol and drug abuse.
In the story, it talked about how the football team was struggling to handle its cost because their closest opponent was more than 500 miles away and with no roads in or out of Barrow, the team has to fly to its road games – a fact that is expensive to a high school football team with a well established program that has strong booster club funding, much less a program with little to no funds at all.
And then there was the football field. It was covered in rocks and the lines outlined with flour, which birds would come down and eat during games and practices.
"They needed something more, and it was outrageous for them to try it but they did," Parker told ABC News.
So Parker decided it was time for someone to help. That someone was her. A bank accountant, Parker got the ball rolling on a project that would generate more than $800,000 with the idea of funding an artificial turf surface for Barrow to play its games on.
"I'm basically just a woman who saw a story on ESPN about this town Barrow in Alaska that was struggling to reverse their high teen birth rate and high dropout rate and high drug use. And they implemented a football program," Parker said. "My family believes football can do a lot of things to encourage young people. And it was just one of those things that kept burning in my heart and I wanted to do something."
Parker reached her goal, and overcame every obstacle, including getting this massive surface transported for Dalton, Ga., where the field was manufacture, to Barrow. Keep in mind there are no roads leading into Barrow.
Thanks to donors from Florida to Alaska, Parker's "Project Alaska Turf" was a success and Barrow has since completed its first season on a blue turf, reminiscent to Boise State's.
Parker continues to help fund Barrow as it tries to complete the project and provide other things the football program needs to stay afloat.
That brings us back to Kyle Parker. Watching his mother stay strong and determined to reach her goal even after several obstacles tried to make her give up, the young Clemson Tiger learned that anything is possible if you keep your mind focused and believe you can do it.
"It is hectic, but things are starting to slow down," Parker said. "Three weeks after football practice is over, I will be doing just baseball. With spring practice they are kind of separating my days and usually, I'm doing just football only, and normally my day on those days is just like everyone else's. It's not too bad. You just have to know how to manage your time, I guess."
Knowing it can be done; Parker only has to look across the football field in practice for an example. Kicker Mark Buchholz played two sports at the same time last fall when he led Clemson in scoring on the football field, and was the captain and starting forward on the soccer pitch.
"It's tough," Buchholz said earlier in the spring. "Luckily, we are in spring practice and it's not in season so he is not going back-and-forth between games, but at the same time it is still tough trying to juggle with the coaches and get back-and-forth and try to get enough practice time with both teams."
Playing two sports right now appears to be a blessing for Parker. Usually a true freshman, who has never been away from his family, sometimes experiences being homesick and misses his family. Though he misses his family, Parker says he doesn't have time to be homesick.
"I just try to play baseball like I always have," he said. "I still enjoy doing it and playing sports and everything. I just try to have fun. I kind of try to block out everything I'm trying to get use to, being away from my family, college life and being on my own for the first time.
"I'm just coming out here and trying to act like this is the same. I know baseball is always the same and football is always going to be the same so I'm just coming out here and enjoying it everyday."
Parker is not only enjoying himself, he is having success in both. In fact, earlier this spring he even doubled-dipped on the same day – practicing two hours with the football team before being carted to Doug Kingsmore Stadium where he made a late appearance in the Tigers' come-from-behind 6-5 victory over UNC-Greensboro.
It was the first and the only time the two-sport athlete's schedule conflicted on the same day.
"He is doing well," Clemson football coach Tommy Bowden said. "He was very impressive in practice and has as good of a velocity on the ball as anyone else that is out there."
Bowden said he wishes he could get Parker some more work, but he says it has been hard because he has missed a couple of meetings and missed a practice, and that has got him behind.
Parker missed most of the Greensboro game because he felt it was important for him to be at football practice, especially since he missed the first practice of the spring when he was at Wake Forest for a three-game baseball series.
"It has been tough trying to pick everything up (in football), but I'm learning that too," he said. "I'm trying to get into the film room and quarterback meetings as much as I can and that's where baseball does kind of conflict with football. I'm sure I will get it with time and I guess I will have to pick it up as fast as I can."
The freshman hasn't had any problems picking up baseball. In fact, he has been a blessing in disguise for Jack Leggett's young baseball team.
He hit .303 with 12 doubles, 14 homers, 50 RBIs, and a .400 on-base percentage in 57 games, earning first-team All-ACC honors in the process. He also led the team in home runs, and batted .336 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs in 29 ACC regular-season games.
"You never know how a kid that age is going to react, and how he is going to put things together at this age, at this level of baseball," Leggett said. "It's one of those things to where I think it was a really good move for him because I think he has made the adjustment now and he will be more comfortable in the fall and he is starting to feel more comfortable out here.
"He is getting his feet wet in both football and baseball so he is making some inroads instead of coming in at the end of the summer and trying to get his feet wet. I think it was a good move for him."
The birth of a legend?
No better example of why it was a good move than in the third game of Clemson's series at Wake Forest on March 9. Parker tied a school record with three home runs that day, including the game-tying three-run homer in the ninth inning. He finished the game, 5-for-5 at the plate with 5 runs scored and 7 RBIs in the Tigers' 12-11 comeback victory.
Clemson had trailed 11-5 going into the eighth inning.
"He has a good presence about him and he picks things up quickly. He has improved a lot in the last three weeks baseball wise," Leggett said. "He is starting to fill more comfortable in the box. He is strong and has some tools to work with.
"He has a good mentality about himself and stays cool under pressure. He is pretty calm. I think he has a really good future. I think if he keeps on learning and keeps on playing baseball, and keeps picking up the repetitions, then I think he can be a good player."
Parker totaled 15 bases in that one game against Wake Forest, as he had a two-run double and single along with his three home runs, the first two of which were solo shots. He became the 12th Tiger in history to hit three long balls in a game and the first since Taylor Harbin, now in the minor leagues, accomplished the feat as a freshman at N.C. State in 2005.
"We knew he was a good player when we saw him out there," Leggett said. "That's one of the reasons he chose Clemson because we are going to give him the opportunity to play both sports.
"Obviously, we knew a lot about him and had seen him play. We knew he would have the chance to hit for us as a freshman even if he came in early. We knew if he got around some good hitters, got the repetitions and around some other good hitters that he could pick things up early, and that's kind of what happened."
What about football?
It will be a while before Parker starts making the same kind of noise on the football field. Bowden says they plan on redshirting him this fall, and then Parker more than likely will have to wait three years behind redshirt freshman Willy Korn, who is being groomed to be the guy to replace senior quarterback Cullen Harper after the 2008 season.
But that's fine for Parker. Right now, he is learning the ropes of just being a student athlete at Clemson. Plus, it gives him extra time to study up on offensive coordinator Rob Spence's offense, while thumping through Clemson's massive playbook.
"It is pretty thick. But other quarterbacks haven't seemed to have too much problems picking things up," Parker said. "He teaches it well so I'm sure I will be able to jump in there and pick it up."
No reason to complain
Parker hasn't had much free time to sit down and think about home and maybe what he is missing out on by skipping his senior year. He says he enjoys coming out to Doug Kingsmore and playing baseball and he loves hanging out with his football teammates when he gets the opportunity to workout.
"All the guys have been awesome so they made it an easy adjustment for me," he said. "I felt like it was time for me to turn the next page and move on from high school. I have one of my buddies from high school coming up here, and I kind of wanted to get settled and tell him how it is. I felt like it was the right decision for me.
"I guess when you are sitting in your classroom all day and then sitting at your dorm and thinking about all the things you are missing out on, then you get on the field it kind of feels like another home. It is kind of a relief to get out here and play and have fun. I guess that has contributed to my success. I just enjoy playing."
And when those times come, where it all seems too difficult to accomplish – and they will come – all Parker has to do is look to his mom and what she is trying to accomplish at a place that's thousands of miles from her home.
She has proven, as many have before her and since, that anything is possible as long as you believe it and strive to achieve it.
"God has blessed me with the ability in both (sports)," Parker said. "I work hard in both of them and I guess you can say some things come natural to me… You know, it will not be too bad doing what I'm doing. There will be just workouts in the summer so that we will kind of an off thing, I guess. But hey, that's what I asked for when I came up here."
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