KP still has something to prove at UVA
MOUNT ULLA — Virginia running back Kevin Parks still answers to K.P. and still remembers his roots on the cornfield-coated West Rowan practice field that shaped him.
Parks dropped by West coach Scott Young’s summer camp to swap war stories about the recent good ol’ days and to inspire the next generation of Falcons.
“Coach rumbled on about my stats a little bit,” Parks said with a laugh. “But I’m still the same K.P. and the message I had for the kids was pretty simple: give it all you’ve got every day and be a team player. I respect these kids. They could’ve stayed inside playing video games, but they came out to the camp, gave up some sweat and got better.”
Needless to say, Parks remains a legend at West. The numbers he posted in his four varsity seasons in Mount Ulla may stand forever locally. He fills the N.C. record book and impacts the national record book with crazy stats such as 10,895 rushing yards, 1,370 carries, 158 touchdowns and 55 100-yard games.
To put Parks’ numbers in perspective, it was big news when West’s Wade Moore pushed the Rowan County rushing record to 4,256 yards in 2005. That was one year before Parks was a freshman.
Parks’ legs always will be a huge part of the legacy of the 2008-10 Falcons, who won 46 in a row. Parks was in on the first 30 in that streak and set the work-ethic bar high for the 16 that followed.
Still, while Parks owns a giant’s heart, at the end of the day he is a 5-foot-8 guy without blazing speed.
That’s why the long list of prep All-America teams on which he earned places didn’t matter when he headed off to Virginia. A train of doubters followed him to Charlottesville. ESPN.com ranked him as the 56th-best back in his class, and they were the most generous of the Internet sites. Rivals.com, a respected organization that ranks prospects on a five-star scale, gave him three.
“Believe me, I hear it all and I read it all and I remember it all,” Parks said. “It’s all motivation — and you use it.”
He redshirted the 2010 season, a year that was humbling at the time, but it’s a year that figures to be extremely beneficial to both Parks and Virginia this fall, now that he’s a fifth-year senior.
While his career to this point has been quiet compared to the comic-book superhero stuff he performed in high school, don’t let anyone tell you that he hasn’t been a fine college player.
He has scored 27 touchdowns and his 25 rushing TDs already rank seventh in Virginia history. He has rushed for 2,474 yards, good for eighth on the Cavaliers’ all-time list.
Thomas Jones set the Virginia career record in 1999 with 3,998 rushing yards, a figure that swelled with his record-breaking 1,798-yard senior season.
Parks would have to put up a monster final season to catch Jones, but assuming he stays healthy for 12 games, he should surpass another 1990s star, Tiki Barber, who sits second behind Jones with 3,389 yards.
Parks rushed for 1,031 yards last season for a 2-10 team. When you go 2-10, it means you don’t have the lead and you’re throwing trying to catch up, rather than running the ball to move the clock. Most believe Virginia will be better this season, so Parks’ numbers could rise accordingly.
He rushed for 1,031 yards as a junior and was second in the ACC in yards per game. That 1,000-yard plateau was significant. He was the first Cavalier to reach 1,000 since Alvin Pearman in 2004.
“I always like being the first one to do something or to do something that hasn’t been done in a long time,” Parks said. “I was happy with some stuff I did, but at the same time, I can’t be satisfied with it because my team went 2-10. You play to win the games, and especially coming from where I came from, 10 losses is hard to take. When you lose 10, you’d better learn some lessons from it.”
Virginia is coming off a if-it-could-go-wrong-it-did-go-wrong sort of year that occurred just two seasons after the Cavaliers won eight times and played in a bowl game.
“It was little things, just failing to capitalize on the opportunities we had,” Parks said. “We have to work hard to correct those things. That’s going to be the focus of our preseason. We all have to go to work every day to turn things around.”
Virginia has lost 18 of its last 22 games, and Parks’ junior season concluded last November with a 100-yard outing in an icy, low-scoring loss to rival Virginia Tech.
The tailback will have more responsibilities this year in the locker room, in the huddle and on the sideline. Back in April, Parks was voted by his teammates as a team captain, along with safety Anthony Harris, linebacker Henry Coley and quarterback Greyson Lambert.
Parks is excited about the young players he’ll lead, including former A.L. Brown receiver Keeon Johnson, who will be a sophomore.
“They pulled the redshirt off Keeon last year and he played great against Clemson,” Parks said. “Keeon and I both scored against UNC (in a 45-14 loss), and I know that TD meant a lot to him. He’s got the size and talent to be one of the best receivers ever to play here.”
Parks is listed at 205 pounds, but he plans to compete in his final college season at 197 or 198.
“I like to pump up in that weight room, but I feel better and feel quicker when I’m a little lighter,” Parks said. “I’m a running back and a running back has to be able to run.”
Parks was elated when Arkansas’ Chris Smith, his high school classmate, was drafted in the fifth round by Jacksonville in May. Smith and Parks have stayed close through the years. Smith didn’t have the luxury of a redshirt season, so he’s reached the highest level while his buddy is still in college.
“I’m still Chris’ biggest fan, and he’s still mine,” Parks said. “I’m proud of Chris. I was just talking to him about Jacksonville releasing one of their veteran defensive ends (Jason Babin), and Chris says he’s already a solid No. 2 (second team). I don’t think anyone is surprised at his success. I knew in high school that Chris would be a draft pick.”
Parks’ own draft prospects might be better than you think. He’s fairly high on the draft-projection lists for next spring. While it’s impossible to say exactly which underclassmen will declare for a draft almost a year away, Parks is currently ranked 13th among available running backs by CBS.Sports.com.
Parks usually runs 40-yard dashes in the high 4.5s, but he’s confident he can lower that clocking to the low 4.5s. Trimming off hundreths of seconds will impact his draft outlook.
“I want to run good times on our pro day and the combines, but I’m determined not to look ahead at those things,” Parks said. “The task at hand is to help my team and our coaching staff. This school is having success right now in basketball, baseball and soccer, and we all want football to be part of that.”
The opportunity for redemption for Virginia’s football program will arrive on Aug. 30 when the UCLA Bruins visit Scott Stadium, and 60,000 fans will wear blue and orange. That’s a noon kickoff on ESPN.
“I’m looking at that game as a blessing,” Parks said. “It’s a chance to show what I can do and what we can do on national TV.”
Parks, who added 38 pass receptions for 329 yards to his rushing numbers, was a consensus second team All-ACC pick in 2013. He’s on the second team again in the preseason magazines, such as Athlon and Phil Steele.
Second team All-ACC is an honor, but second team isn’t what Parks is about. His eyes burn and his speech quickens when he discusses it.
“Like I said, I read it all,” Parks said. “I’ll use it.”