Despite missing his teams first seven games recovering from a broken bone in his foot, senior wide receiver DeVante Parker has become the impact player that all anticipated from the moment that he returned to the field.
Making his 2014 debut against N.C. State two weeks ago, Parker hauled in a 37-yard reception on his first play from scrimmage. He'd finished the game with a career-high tying 9 receptions with 132 yards in the Cardinals 30-18 win over the Wolfpack.
Many expected Parker to see little action in his first game back, allowing him an opportunity to get accustomed to live action once again. No one, including his head coach, expected him perform at such a high level so quickly.
”I thought he played really well,” U of L head coach Bobby Petrino said following the N.C. State win. “I was really impressed with the way he ran after the catch. I thought he'd get open, I thought he'd catch the ball, but I didn't expect to see that many yards after the catch.”
While he proved to the elite performer, he still wasn't fully recovered from the preseason injury. If the ball is in his area, he's going to catch it and he's going to get get a few extra yards in the process, but his open field speed is still recovering.
His immediate impact was felt once again against defending national champion Florida State. On the Cardinals offensive play of the game, Parker hauled in a pass from Will Gardner, found open space and raced to the end zone. He was caught from behind – 71 yards down-field – inside the Seminoles 5-yard line.
“We felt like we could score,” Parker said about the play, then eluded that his recovery is still not complete. “My foot is not all the way healed.”
Petrino has noticed the difference in Parker's down-field running in practices.
“Yeah, you can see him do that in practice sometimes where he really shows bursts and then pulls off a little bit the further he gets down the field and I’m sure he doesn’t feel like he is exactly where he would want to be,” he explained.
Against the Seminoles, Parker totaled 8 receptions for 214 yards. The 214 yards is tied for the second highest single-game total in school history, equaling a performance by former U of L tight end Ibn Green in 1998. Harry Douglas, a 7-year veteran with the Atlanta Falcons and who was in attendance on Thursday night, holds the highest total for his 223 yard performance against %%MATCH_7%% in 2007.
Parker credited his teammates for his ability to make big plays.
“My teammates doing their job and getting me open,” he said. “It was all them doing their job and I was getting open.”
Parker's presence on the field, along with his ability to make play, after play, has propelled an offense that appeared stagnant and confused for much of the season, into one that seemed to do it's part to defeat the second-ranked Seminoles.
“He is a tremendous football player and he has done an unbelievable job the last two weeks for us, making plays and making great catches and getting open, but I do think he continues to get better,” said Petrino. “Last week in practice was a significant improvement from the previous week and I am hoping we see that again this week.”
Parker's focus this week will be preparing for a difficult Boston College team.
“I just want to go out there and help my teammates and do what I can do,” he said. “Go out and give it my all.”
Louisville visits Boston College on Saturday, November 8. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., and will be broadcast on ESPN2.