Clemson University

Parker's baseball career aids first year as QB

Clemson quarterback No. 11 Kyle Parker tosses the ball during the first quarter as Clemson defeats Virginia 34-21 at halftime at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2009.  Clemson's last home game of the year is to clinch the ACC Atlantic division and advance to the conference championship game against Georgia Tech.
Clemson quarterback No. 11 Kyle Parker tosses the ball during the first quarter as Clemson defeats Virginia 34-21 at halftime at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2009. Clemson's last home game of the year is to clinch the ACC Atlantic division and advance to the conference championship game against Georgia Tech.

CLEMSON - In some ways, this is all new for Clemson's Kyle Parker: the speed and intensity of major-college football, the glare of the spotlight that comes with being the Tigers' quarterback - tough stuff for a redshirt freshman.

In other ways, though, all of this is old hat.

The Parker who was viewed as a rookie on Dabo Swinney's squad is a seasoned veteran for baseball coach Jack Leggett. This spring, the starting outfielder will be a junior baseball-wise, eligible for the Major League Baseball draft at season's end.

This week, as he has prepared for his first taste of the Clemson-South Carolina football rivalry on Saturday, Parker said he'll draw on two seasons of baseball experience.

"I've been a part of the rivalry in baseball, so I know how heated it is, how passionate the fans are about it," he said. "It'll be fun. We just have to go out and put our best foot forward."

Parker's blend of football inexperience and baseball savvy has produced a season that began with typical rookie mistakes but rapidly is turning into an accomplished act.

The latest chapter in Parker's down-and-up season was Saturday's virtuoso performance as the Tigers (8-3) rode his 234 yards passing and two touchdowns past Virginia 34-21, locking up their first ACC Atlantic Division title and a spot in the Dec. 5 ACC championship game in Tampa, Fla.

Parker completed 19 of 26 passes, including his first 10. That's a far cry from Clemson's 2-3 start, when he failed to complete more than half of his throws in all but one game: the Tigers' wakeup-call loss at Maryland.

That inefficiency was a jolt of reality, one that had Parker re-evaluating his approach to football. With one game per week instead of baseball's multiple contests, the 20-year-old learned to immerse himself in studying for Saturdays.

"I think I've played better (because) I'm learning how to play," he said. "I know more what I want to do, and that's due to preparation, being in the film room ... and being in game-time situations."

Parker's completion percent has gone from 46.7 (71-of-152) in his first five games to 64.1 (91-of-142) during the Tigers' 6-0 run. He had five touchdown passes and five interceptions before the Maryland game; he's had 13 and four since.

"He gets better every game," said receiver Jacoby Ford, Parker's primary target (45 catches, 654 yards and five touchdowns). "He shows more poise every time he steps on the field, and he puts us in position to win (each) game."

Offensive coordinator Billy Napier said the improvement has been, for the most part, mental rather than physical.

"The decision-making is where he's improved the most, and in his preparation through the week," Napier said. "Remember ... it's not only his first time playing but his first time preparing to play. He didn't get a chance to watch a guy do that (over) the past two, three years.

"He made some poor decisions, and that was to be expected. We talked about how to handle those, and he's gone about his business in the right way."

Parker survived those early disappointments without permanent damage to his psyche or confidence, in all likelihood, because of those spring days roaming the Doug Kingsmore Stadium outfield.

"That baseball mentality carries over into how he plays football," Napier said. "You can strike out three times then hit a double and a home run, and you go home celebrating. So when he has a negative situation, he overcomes it pretty quickly."

Add a toughness that his teammates appreciate, and Parker has gained the admiration of veteran teammates.

"He stands in there (and) he's not afraid to take a hit and still throw it," Ford said. "And he'll run it, too (50 carries for 93 yards). That's two things I love in a quarterback."

Parker credits baseball - again - with honing his competitive nature. He knows he can rely on an athlete's instincts when needed.

"That's the way you have to play at this level," he said. "The game's so fast, you have to trust what you see and go with those decisions."

The result is a mixture of attention to detail and an "it" factor - swagger, cool - such that he seldom second-guesses his mistakes. Little wonder Swinney and Napier can't wait to see Parker 2.0: Team Leader.

"(Quarterback) is primarily where a team looks for leadership," Parker said. "So willing or not, I have to take that role. Coach Napier's done a good job putting me in that situation, and I think the guys believe in me."

And Parker believes in himself. If he ever was a true rookie, he's not anymore.

"It's tough to say" if his football acumen now matches his baseball smarts, Parker said. "But I don't look at the years. I think I can learn more. I just need to go out, play and listen to the coaches.

"I just want to learn as much as I can," he said, and smiled. "We'll see what people say about me then."

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