There was DeVante Parker standing amid 25 other top college football players, getting his photo taken at the ACC Kickoff in Greensboro, N.C.
The University of Louisville senior wide receiver was among the likes of Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston of Florida State, Miami running back Duke Johnson and Clemson defensive standout Vic Beasley at the kickoff event.
Parker didn’t go unnoticed but he wasn’t a main attraction as the Cardinals move into the ACC for the school’s inaugural season.
But once turned loose to make his way around the gauntlet of interviews during the media session, Parker was a standout. He was the only player among those at the kickoff to get questions about “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
“That’s OK with me,” Parker said with a laugh. “It’s my favorite show.”
Added teammate Lorenzo Mauldin: “He loves that show. He has every episode, he watches it all the time and sings the song.”
Parker was prodded but wouldn’t sing the song on camera, but did say the show is a way for him to “relax and just be myself.” He said he owns copies of nearly every episode of the animated television show that has been on the air since 1999.
”I just like it,” he said. “I think it’s funny and I like the show. My favorite character is Patrick (the dimwitted pink starfish fictional character on the show) because I just think he’s so funny.”
Parker’s affinity for SpongeBob might be unusual for an elite-level college football player, but it shows just how simple the U of L All-American candidate is off the playing field. Give him SpongeBob and a video game and he’s fine.
”He’s like a kid,” Mauldin said.
But on the field, Parker is a monster. Mel Kiper has him listed as the No. 3 wide receiver prospect in the 2015 NFL Draft and Parker’s on pace to break virtually every receiving record at the University of Louisville.
”Very special,” U of L head coach Bobby Petrino said. “He’s an extremely talented player. I’ve had the opportunity to coach some really good wide receivers, including one with the Jaguars named Jimmy Smith, who was big and physical and caught the ball away from his body with his hands. He was a good one, but DeVante is probably the closest thing I’ve coached in college to Jimmy Smith.
”He’s good and he doesn’t talk a lot. He lets his play speak for him.”
While he can recite any lines his teammates want to hear from SpongeBob episodes, Parker said he’s not one for “talking a whole lot,” around anyone.
”That’s just me,” he said, noting he’s always been a quite sort.
So, it was really out of his norm and he had to do 30-plus interviews during the session at the ACC Kickoff. He was asked all sorts of questions and said it was “good for me,” to have to face the media in that manner.
“I don’t think I’ve ever talked this much,” Parker said with a smile. “But it’s good for us and it’s good for our team. It’s not really that hard for me.
“I just know when it’s my time to talk that I need to talk. Other than that, I really don’t need to talk if I’m not expected too. That’s just me.”
Most of his teammates agree that Parker is “just not into all the talking off the field,” cornerback Charles Gaines said, while wide receiver coach Lamar Thomas said, “You are not going to get much out of him. Not many words.”
In fact, Petrino said he learned more about Parker from a meeting with his grandmother, Yvonne, than perhaps time spent with the player himself.
”She met with me when I first got the job here,” Petrino said. “She came in and it was great and came in and said, ‘Coach we are 100 percent behind you but DeVante doesn’t say much, so I wanted to see how he was doing.’ She wanted to know how he’s doing in school and how he’s working.
”I really learned a lot from his grandma, how quiet he really is. But he works so hard on the practice field and lets his play do his talking.”
Kiper says Parker “really stands out for his ability to make the contested catch,” while CBS Sports projects him as the No. 1 wide receiver in the ’15 draft. The former Ballard High standout started all 12 games and led the team with 885 receiving yards, while his dozen touchdowns tied the school single-season record.
Parker enters the final year of his career with 113 receptions for 1,920 yards and 28 touchdowns. He is third in school history in TDs and 10th in yards.
”He wants to be the best,” Thomas said. “He works hard and wants to put up (big) numbers. He works hard and if you tell him something, he applies it.”
In the new Petrino offense, Parker is expected to be the main cog for the Cardinals. Petrino has always employed the “feed the stud” mantra on offense and said he will continue that with Thomas saying, “Get it to #9.”
”He's really special," Petrino said. "He has a combination of size and strength. He can really control his body and make different catches in the air and I think the thing that excites me as much as anything is his ability to run after the catch.”
Parker said he stayed mum on last season and the previous staff but at ACC Kickoff admitted Charlie Strong’s staff was always “putting their foot on the brakes. They didn’t really want to score anything.”<.p>
But that certainly won’t be a problem this season.
Petrino and his staff will try to score more points this year than SpongeBob will make Krabby Patties at the Krusty Krab during one season of episodes.
The school record for catches in a season is 101 set in 1999 by Arnold Jackson, who had 90 in ’98 with Petrino as the offensive coordinator. J.R. Russell hauled in 75 and 73 in two years under Petrino as the head coach in 2003-04.
Parker was interested to hear those numbers and said 100 catches “wasn’t too high” of a number to think about. But said he knows the team has a lot of weapons, so he’s not certain what his final number would be.
“I don’t but if it comes, I will take it,” Parker said of 100 catches. “We have a lot of receivers that have a chance to get the ball, so it will be spread around. Who knows how many chances we will all get, but I’ll take what I can.
”I’m never going to say a lot, I just want to get my degree, graduate for my family and help us win games. That’s all I want.”