Oct. 8, 2013
By Melissa Dudek
Kevin Parks always wanted to be a running back. The 5-8 junior rushed for 10,895 yards during his high school career at West Rowan High School, putting up those North Carolina state record for yards on a national-record 1,370 career attempts.
It has been well-documented that Parks, despite being named the 2009 Old Spice Red Zone National Player of the Year and earning a No. 56 ranking at running back by ESPN.com, was overlooked by many schools during the recruiting process because of his size.
"As long as you play with your heart and the love for the game it doesn't matter how small you are," Parks said. "I always believe that."
Being too small was not the initial hurdle that Parks faced in his quest to run towards the end zone. At the very beginning of his career as a third-grader playing YFL [Youth Football League], he was forced into playing a less-desirable position because of weight limits.
"People probably wont believe it, but I played center and defensive tackle my third grade year because I was overweight," Parks recalls with a laugh. "I was a little chunky kid. I always wanted to be a running back, but at the time they had a weight limit and I was above the weight limit. My fourth grade year, they moved me to linebacker, but I still played center and guard. Having played on the offensive line back then, though, I did learn a lot of stuff, so I can relate to what's going on now when a coach gives the linemen instruction."
In middle school, no longer inhibited by the weight limit, Parks finally got his chance to run. Eventually, the very active Parks began to shed weight and transform into a more traditional, albeit short, running back. A two-sport athlete who also played point guard in AAU basketball, Parks eventually turned his focus entirely on football.
"I started seeing in myself that I was better at football, but there was a big love for basketball still, too," Parks said. "In the end, I went with football because I thought about my future and saw there could be a profession for me in it. In basketball, you have everyone who is taller than you and people are smacking your shots across the court and out of bounds. I stuck with football because I could run the ball and hide behind my linemen and maybe see if people can't find me. I was able to sometimes use my size as an attribute."
His father, Kevin Parks, Sr., also played a big role in Parks choosing the gridiron over the hardwood. Parks Sr. was an All-American defensive tackle at Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C., where the younger Parks grew up.
"My dad was the one who originally got me into football," Parks said. "He was a big football star when he played in his college and high school days. I guess it came through to me in his genes. He wanted me to play, so I didn't want to disappoint."
Parks Sr. never really shared much about his playing days with his son. It was Parks Sr.'s friends who were more than willing to fill young Kevin in about his dad, who went to preseason camp with the Dallas Cowboys before knee problems ended his dreams of playing in the NFL.
"When I went to Catawba games when I was young, my dad's college buddies would tell me that they used to call my dad `The Human Eraser' because they said he erased everything that came his way," Parks said. "My dad really wouldn't tell me much, because that's what kind of guy he is. We never really went into much detail about his time in Cowboy camp, but I would sit back and think about what it meant for him not being able to go to the NFL. I use that as a motivation thinking that maybe one day I could have a chance at the league and give it a shot."
Though he doesn't share much about his own playing days, Parks Sr. and son have had a very active and ongoing dialogue about the younger's football career.
"My father helps me out a lot by talking to me and telling me what he sees when he is sitting on the sidelines and what he thinks," Parks said. "He always tells me to stay low and I say `But Dad, I'm already low to the ground,' but I get what he's saying. `Stay low so they really can't see you when you're shooting out of the hole.' Football is a game where the lowest man wins, pad-level wise. Stay low so nobody gets a big hit on you. When I'm on the field, I always try to stay low to the ground and use that to my advantage."
Staying low to the ground has been working out well for Parks. Only one running back in Virginia program history, Wali Lundy, has entered his junior season at UVa with more career rushing yards than Parks.
Parks redshirted his first season, though he was part of the travel squad. His collegiate debut came against William & Mary in 2011, a game that Parks recalls quite fondly.
"I believe it was after the first quarter that coach London rotated me into the game," Parks said. "My man Perry [Jones] got his couple of carries, and then I rotated in. I had butterflies as I was running on the field up until I got the ball. That was probably why I was moving so fast, because I was so nervous. I didn't want to get hit, so that was a big thing for me too. My number was called. I think I got 20 yards on the first carry."
Parks finished the game with 16 rushes for 114 yards with three touchdowns, being named the ACC Rookie of the Week for his efforts.
Since then, Parks, who only started two games last season though he appeared in all 12 as part of a platoon with Jones, finished the 2012 season as the team's leading rusher, amassing 734 yards with five TD's.
This season, Parks sits atop the depth chart, but the added pressure hasn't stemmed his production. On the rainy Sunday afternoon against VMI, he rushed for a career-high 135 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught two passes for 69 yards.
Despite the fact that Parks only played in the first half, both of his parents sat in the stands, watching the game until the very end.
"They had rain ponchos on and they stayed through it," Parks laughed, crediting his parents for their extreme dedication in the adverse conditions.
His mom, Sherry, gets up extra early on home game days to go pick up an order of wings from Parks' favorite hometown restaurant to deliver to Charlottesville. She, unlike her husband, doesn't break down Parks' performances, but she offers him one piece of very sage advice.
"My mom tells me `give it everything you've got and have fun and just play the game you love and have fun doing it'," Parks said. "And that is what I do. In life, when things are going bad, football can be a relief when you go out and play the game. I might be stressed about something and then I come in to practice and I just lay it on the line. Having the passion for the game is big for me. Just playing around with my teammates, running around and making moves is something fun.
"God gave me this gift and ability and I'm going to use it. I work hard to get stronger and to get faster each and every day. I always try to find something to work on and get better at. And it is fun."
And for the Cavalier faithful, it's fun to watch.