Offensive Player of the Year: K.P. Parks
By Mike London
A legend of the past and legend of the present crossed paths at Catawba’s Shuford Stadium on Monday afternoon.
They greeted each other like old friends.
West Rowan senior tailback K.P. Parks was on hand to pose for all-county pictures and accept the honor of Rowan County Offensive Player of the Year for the third time.
Billy Ray Barnes ó former Landis Yellow Jacket, former Wake Forest Demon Deacon and former NFL star ó was there to meet Parks. Barnes reads the paper, but Parks’ numbers sounded like something out of a fairy tale. There was hot pizza waiting, but the 74-year-old Barnes wanted to see Parks up close.
Here are those numbers one more time, just for the record.
For the season ó 407 carries, 3,794 rushing yards, 59 TDs. One 3A state championship. One Shrine Bowl MVP award.
For his four-year career ó 1,370 carries, 10,895 rushing yards, 158 TDs. Two state titles.
Parks threatened the national record for rushing yards. He broke the national mark for 100-yard games. He carried the ball more often than any American high schooler ever has.
The Associated Press will name its state player of the year today, and Parks is a leading candidate.
Fifty years ago, Barnes was at his peak.
Barnes was a Philadelphia Eagle in 1959, and there was a November day when he ran over the Washington Redskins. He had 163 yards on 13 carries. K.P. Parks numbers ó at the NFL level.
Barnes was great his first three seasons in the NFL (1957-59). All three seasons he was in the top 10 in the league in carries, rushing yards and rushing TDs. All three seasons he was picked for the Pro Bowl.
He caught passes like crazy during that era of 12-game seasons. In 1959, he was a 1,000-yard guy when 1,000-yard guys were still rare ó 687 rushing, 314 receiving.
He was banged up in 1960, but he helped the Eagles win the NFL championship. They beat Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers on an icy field, and when the Eagles needed first downs on their game-winning drive, Hall of Fame quarterback Norm Van Brocklin put the ball in Barnes’ hands.
Barnes lasted in the league until 1966, ending his NFL career with 3,421 rushing yards and 38 TDs. He even threw four touchdown passes.
Before Philadelphia made him the 19th overall pick in the 1957 draft, Barnes was a terror at Wake Forest.
He was ACC Football Player of the Year in 1956 and MVP of the North-South All-Star Game. He was second in the nation in rushing and became the first player in ACC history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. He returned punts. He returned kickoffs. He punted. As a DB, he intercepted a school-record 11 passes.
He could’ve been voted ACC Baseball Player of the Year. In 1955, Wake won the national championship. Barnes played third base, led the league in steals and hit .300 when not many guys were batting .300.
Before Wake, Barnes was a three-sport phenom at Landis High. He scored more points in basketball than anyone in the county had ever scored. He was all-state in baseball and football.
He scored six TDs in a game, ran for 300-plus yards in a game and had a 99-yard scoring run. He jokes that that’s the one record he set that can only be tied ó not broken.
Barnes was named the Post’s Athlete of the Century in 2000 for a reason, but there were doubters when he came out of Landis High in 1953.
People said he wasn’t that big, wasn’t that fast, wasn’t that good, and Parks can certainly relate.
“Landis had great athletes, but it was a small school,” Barnes said. “I didn’t get to play in the Shrine Bowl. I did play in the East-West game, but I played defensive back, might’ve carried the ball one time.”
Those are stories Barnes shared with Parks. Despite all the numbers, Parks wasn’t offered scholarships by in-state ACC schools that probably could’ve landed him.
“What about Wake Forest?” asked Barnes, still a Deacon at heart.
“They didn’t ask,” Parks answered.
“What if they asked now?” Barnes wondered.
“Too late,” Parks replied.
Parks shined in last week’s Shrine Bowl game and in practices all week.
“Maybe I triggered some second thoughts in people,” Parks said. “But I wasn’t really worried about that. I was thinking about those kids we were playing for, and I was thinking about winning the ballgame.”
West coach Scott Young isn’t unbiased, but he’s certain Parks was one of the best players there.
“I think K.P. answered any questions, put any doubts to rest,” he said.
West running backs coach Jeff Chapman added, “I was kinda curious how K.P. would do and how (defensive end Chris (Smith) would do when everyone on the field’s an all-star,” he said. “They showed what they can do.”
Parks is 5-foot-7, and his 40-yard dash time won’t turn any heads. But he has vision, balance, quickness, power, brains and world-class work ethic. Barnes wasn’t usually the most gifted guy in his locker room either.
But he had a special motor.
“I’d been in the NFL seven years before anyone timed me in the 40,” Barnes said. “Believe me, I saw some of the fastest guys in the world who couldn’t play at all. We had a guy named Eddie Khayat in Philadelphia, slowest guy on the team, but who was the first guy down the field on every kickoff? Eddie Khayat. Some guys can just play football.”
Barnes was impressed by Parks, the confidence as well as the stats.
“You can tell this kid has a big heart,” Barnes said. “No kid gets 200 yards every night like he does without heart. I can see he’s got the drive to excel. I just wish he was going to Wake Forest.”
Parks is still firm in his commitment to Virginia, the first school that fell in love with him, despite its postseason coaching change.
And he listened intently to Barnes’ advice.
“It was an honor that a man who accomplished what he did in the NFL came out here today,” Parks said. “I’ll take things he said with me. He told me to show people they made a mistake ó and to get that degree.”