on September 1, 2009 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Clemson’s Parker hoping to hit home run in debut

CLEMSON — Kyle Parker can’t specifically remember the largest crowd he’s ever played in front of so far in his athletic career.

After this Saturday, when the redshirt freshman is set to start at quarterback for Clemson’s season opener against Middle Tennessee, that question will be significantly easier to answer.

“I’ve played in front of some people and been in some big situations, but it’s definitely not going to be anything compared to being out there on (Saturday),” he said.

But while any player making his collegiate debut is sure to be nervous, as he alluded to, Parker has been there before — just as a baseball player.

The Jacksonville, Fla., product garnered All-ACC honors after leading the Tigers in home runs as a true freshman in 2008, when he could’ve still been a senior in high school.

And while the most fans ever to witness a baseball game at Clemson’s Doug Kingsmore Stadium (6,480) pales in comparison to the 80,000 or so that will fill Memorial Stadium for Saturday’s 6 p.m. kickoff, Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney said Parker’s experience on the diamond could prove invaluable when he takes the gridiron.

“I think there’s some merit to that, in that he’s competed at the college level,” Swinney said. “I’m going to tell you what, it’s no easy thing to go step in that batter’s box out there and a guy’s throwing 90 miles an hour and there’s nowhere to hide.”

Of more significance for Parker, according to both Swinney and offensive coordinator Billy Napier, is the mentality baseball’s high rate of failure — even the best hitters succeed only about 30 percent of the time — forces players to adopt.

Parker proved himself adept in the resiliency department recently, and in the most pressure-packed of situations, in the Tigers’ regional title game against Oklahoma State less than three months ago.

Mired in an extended slump (14 for his last 79), Parker came to the plate with two on and two out in the bottom of the eighth inning and the Tigers trailing by a run. Without so much as taking a pitch to get comfortable, Parker lined a curve ball from the Cowboys’ closer into the left-field corner to score both base runners and propel his team into the Super Regionals.

Parker agreed that the key to success in such a situation was all about the right mentality, which should carry over very well from baseball to football.

“Going in there and being a young guy, I’m going to make mistakes and there’s going to be interceptions,” he said. “The thing is just how you respond to those. You’ve got to flush them.

“It’s the same thing in baseball, you strike out or you could go 0-for-3 and then the ninth inning comes around and you’re up to bat and you’re the guy that’s going to have to get it done.”

When Parker starts against Middle Tennessee on Saturday, he will be the first freshman to start the season opener at quarterback for Clemson since 1945 when Bobby Gage started as the single wing tailback — essentially the quarterback in those days — against Presbyterian.

And while that fact might make some play-callers queasy, Napier said he believed Parker to be more prepared than most freshmen because of his baseball experience.

“He knows there’s going to be some ups and downs,” Napier said. “I think that’s the problem with a lot of players is they don’t expect the bad things to happen. … And I think Kyle’s probably pretty advanced when it comes to that.”

Swinney, meanwhile, agreed that Parker didn’t carry himself like your average redshirt freshman quarterback.

“He looks comfortable,” Swinney said. “He’s really got a nice command to him and presence out there, and he really doesn’t make many mistakes. … And when he makes mistakes, he seems to have the real ability to move on to the next play. It doesn’t seem to really haunt him. That might be something that transfers over from baseball, you know, you strike out and you’ve got to get back up and go.”

But while Parker clearly handles pressure and adversity better than many players of his age and experience level, he’s just like most college students in one respect: he considers noon to be awfully early, especially on a Saturday.

On this particular Saturday, however, Parker said he wouldn’t necessarily mind if kickoff had been scheduled just a little earlier.

“I don’t really like noon games, but waiting around (until 6 o’clock) is probably going to be a pretty nervous-type deal,” he said. “But there’s nothing like being in Death Valley when the sun’s down with the electric environment. That’s a pretty big deal right there.”