Nov. 21, 2014
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Scott Young understood why many major-college football programs declined to seriously recruit Kevin Parks, despite the tailback's mind-boggling statistics at West Rowan High in Mount Ulla, N.C. That didn't mean Young agreed with those decisions.
"I knew everybody questioned his size and his straight-ahead speed," Young, West Rowan's longtime coach, said this week. "I knew that he would be successful anywhere."
Parks, of course, landed in Charlottesville, and for that UVa fans are thankful. He enrolled at the University in June 2010 and shared a dorm room with offensive tackle Morgan Moses that summer. When he graduates next month, Parks will leave as one of the most productive running backs in program history.
With two regular-season games remaining, the 5-8, 200-pound Parks ranks sixth all-time at Virginia with 3,143 career rushing yards. Thomas Jones' school record of 3,998 yards is out of reach, but Parks figures to pass some, and perhaps all, of the others ahead of him on the list: No. 5 Wali Lundy (3,191), No. 4 John Papit (3,238), No. 3 Terry Kirby (3,348) and No. 2 Tiki Barber (3,389).
Parks ranks fourth all-time at UVa in rushing touchdowns (29), ninth in all-purpose yards (3,909) and fifth in receptions by a running back (101).
"It's funny, because I always believed in what I could do," said Parks, whose hometown is Salisbury, N.C. "I always felt like I knew what I could do. I was always doubted. I was a smaller back, a smaller guy. I wasn't highly recruited. Those type of things build a lot of fire, and those are the kind of things that just keep you going, each and every day."
When he arrived at West Rowan, Parks stood 5-6 and weighed 185 pounds. Even so, people who'd watched him dominate in youth leagues assured Young that Parks would be a four-year starter for the Falcons.
"You don't know whether you can believe that or not," Young said.
He quickly became a believer. Parks rushed for 1,721 yards and 23 touchdowns as a ninth-grader. By the time he finished his high school career, he'd rushed for a state-record 10,895 yards and scored 158 TDs.
As a senior, Parks rushed for 3,794 yards and 59 touchdowns in leading West Rowan to its second consecutive Class 3A state title.
Throughout his career, Parks has compensated for a lack of sprinter's speed with impeccable vision -- he excels at reading blocks -- and a low center of gravity.
"He's able to get a lot of mileage, even after contact with guys much bigger than him, because he runs so low to the ground," Young said.
The final opportunity to see Parks play at Scott Stadium comes Saturday. At 7 p.m., Virginia (4-6 overall, 2-4 ACC) hosts Miami (6-4, 3-3) in a Coastal Division game that ESPN2 will televise.
Before the game, Parks will be among the 34 fourth- and fifth-year players honored in a Senior Day ceremony. His cheering section will include his parents, Sherry and Kevin Parks, and his daughter, Jada.
"She's excited," Parks said of Jada, who's 4.
On what will be an emotional night for Parks, one of the Wahoos' captains, he won't forget what's at stake for his team. Virginia's margin for error is gone. To become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2011, the `Hoos must defeat Miami and then, in the Nov. 28 regular-season finale at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech.
"That's our mindset right now," said Parks, who lives with fellow fifth-year seniors Khalek Shepherd and Henry Coley. "We have a back-against-the-wall mindset. We've just got to fight and give everything we've got to win these next two.
"We just gotta keep guys focused and keep the eye on the prize. We're on a four-game losing streak, but our goals are still in reach, and that's what we talked about. There's no time to worry about those losses."
Still, Parks admitted, it's difficult to not reflect on two games in particular. After beating Pittsburgh on Oct. 4, Virginia was 4-2 overall and 2-0 in ACC play. In the Cavaliers' next game, though, they gave up a fourth-quarter touchdown to Duke and lost 20-13 in Durham, N.C.
A week later, on Oct. 25, Virginia led North Carolina 27-21 late in the fourth quarter, then self-destructed in what ended as a 28-27 defeat.
"You win those games, we'd be at six [victories] right now," Parks said. "It was really tough for me, losing those two games that we had. It was right there, and we let it slip away. But you just gotta move on. That's just how life is."
He wasn't accustomed to losing before he came to Charlottesville. In his final two high school seasons, West Rowan won 31 of 32 games.
"Pretty good," Parks said, smiling.
In 2010, when he redshirted, the `Hoos finished 4-8, but they won eight games and played in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in 2011. Parks expected more success to follow, but the Cavaliers slumped to 4-8 in 2012 and 2-10 last season.
"Losing really takes a toll on a kid like K.P.," Young said.
"I hate losing with a passion," Parks said. "I probably hate losing more than I like winning. You can't accept losing. It's something that just doesn't sit with me well. I'm very competitive."
His teammates and coaches will attest to that. As a junior in 2013, Parks became the first Cavalier since Alvin Pearman in 2004 to rush for more than 1,000 yards. Parks finished the year with 1,031 yards and 11 TDs rushing and made the All-ACC second team.
This season, he's carried 165 times for 669 yards and four TDs, and he ranks sixth among ACC players in rushing yards per game (66.9).
For Parks' first three seasons in the program, his position coach was Mike Faragalli. Larry Lewis replaced Faragalli after the 2012 season and quickly became a Parks fan.
"He's a great young man, No. 1," Lewis said this week. "And I think because he's a great person and has great heart, great inspiration, great effort, all that carries from his life onto the field, because that's what you get on the field, too. You get everything he's got, and that's what I like about him."
Natalie Fitzgerald, UVa's director of academic affairs for football, has worked with Parks since his first day on Grounds. Back then, the mammoth Moses, now a rookie with the Washington Redskins, and Parks were affectionately known around the McCue Center as "Shrek and Donkey," a reference to characters in the blockbuster movie.
"Kevin is one of those kids that wanted to do everything the right way to begin with," Fitzgerald said this week. "His work ethic is unbelievable, both in the classroom and out. He wants to do things the right way. He wants to finish them in advance. He doesn't want to be late. He never asks for extensions.
"The biggest change I see in Kevin is just a maturity and how he handles himself, and the role he's taken on, both with the team and in the classroom. His biggest weakness when he arrived here was the verbal aspect, and it wasn't because he couldn't talk, it was because he just wanted to be quiet, take care of his business, have everybody leave him alone."
During his time at UVa, Parks has learned "to become more of a verbal self-advocate, both in the classroom and on the team, and instead of leading by example, to lead through the spoken word," Fitzgerald said.
"I learned a lot from those guys. When you come through college, you want to be able to mature and see yourself grow as a person, and as a player as well."
Fatherhood has changed him too. His daughter, who was born in the fall of 2010, lives in Salisbury with her mother.
"For me, every time I'm with [Jada], I have to make the most of it, because I'm here at school doing what I have to do to better myself for her," said Parks, an anthropology major. "Being young and being a college student, it can be hard at times, but at the end of the day you gotta realize who you're doing it for and why you're doing it."
When Parks was in high school, there were those who doubted he could distinguish himself in the ACC. Five years later, there are those who question whether he's big enough or fast enough to play in the NFL.
Parks simply wants an opportunity to prove himself. Once he graduates, he'll begin training full time. He hopes to land an invitation to a postseason all-star game, and to the NFL scouting combine.
If no invitations are forthcoming, "I'll get ready for the pro day [at UVa] and see what happens," Parks said.
For Parks to make an NFL roster, Lewis said, it's "got to be the right fit and the right time. I can't predict what [NFL teams are] going to do. But does he have the intangibles? Yeah, there's no doubt about it."
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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.
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