EXTRA EDITION: Kenny Parker, of Northside, Florida, Murray State and Ohio State.
Coming from the middle of the state, Kenny Parker has really made some almost antagonistic decisions.
First, he picked Florida for college, owner of a big-time resume as a defensive tackle.
Now? He’s hip deep in the heart of Big Ten country, the conference often ridiculed by fans of the conference he spent a decade in.
So now when Parker goes home to Warner Robins? His veins now run with Northside, Florida and Ohio State blood.
No apologies from Ohio State’s assistant strength coach.
It does make for interesting visits home anymore, since the bulk of his attire is Ohio State-related.
“I come home and visit my parents, and I'll have a ohio state shirt on,” he said. “And i hear it from the time I get into the store until the time I get out.”
He said that’s all he packs, but there’s some scarlet and gray on Greenbriar Road at the home of Pearl and Kenny Parker as the Ohio State word gets spread.
“I just let my dad do it,” he said of wearing the Buckeye colors in Warner Robins. “He's with all his Buckeye gear, and my mother with all her Buckeye gear, and they get it for me."
NOTHING BUT WINNING
When one listens to Parker talk about his long career, the thought hits that he’s been with some pretty good programs.
So one takes a look back at the records at Northside, Florida, Murray State and Ohio State with Parker in uniform or on the staff.
How does a record of 190-53 sound?
From his freshman year at Northside to Monday night’s championship game, Parker has never been attached to a losing team, not even a .500 team.
And he played for Ron Zook.
His first season at Ohio State was the only undefeated year, but there were two one-loss seasons at Northside, three at Florida while he was a staffer, and this season’s 13-1mark.
“Never really did the math to it,” he said in an email from Dallas. “But that's something I must admit I have to work on enjoying the moments. Still a work in progress.”
PARKER AT OSU, THE SEQUEL
Kenny is the second big man - and amazingly, the second Parker - to connect Middle Georgia with Ohio State.
Jim Parker was born in Macon and went to Ballard Hudson High before his family moved to Ohio. Jim played at Ohio State from 1954-56 on both lines and went on to a Hall of Fame NFL career.
Jim helped Ohio State win the AP national title in 1954, something Kenny hopes to match 61 years later.
“Jim Parker? Absolutely I know who he is,” Parker said. “It's kind of one of my rituals. For every school I work at, I go and check their history for players or coaches who are from my home state or town. But I did not know he's from Macon, and that makes me proud.”
A MEYER GUY
Urban Meyer inspires all sorts of opinions from colleagues, rivals, fans and media, and they’re not exactly the things to show Mom.
But Parker sees a different, the one that simply leads to phenomenal success wherever Meyer goes.
“He's still the same man that he was at Florida,” Parker said. “We're all on the same page.”
DECISION TIME: WEIGHT ROOM OR SIDELINE?
Parker was on the sidelines as a coach for one year at a high school in Florida and for two years at Murray State. He spent different periods at Florida after graduation with assistants as well.
Another part of his time at Florida was his introduction to the strength and conditioning field, under Mickey Marotti.
When he left Florida, he had about the same amount of time in both fields, and then did the same thing at Murray State, holding down both a coaching spot and head football strength and conditioning coach.
Now, he’s in his third year as just a strength guy.
So, somebody asks: coaching or strength and conditioning?
“I love ball. If you ask me which one I love the most, I probably still can't answer that question. I love both of them.”
Come on, quit dancing.
“I would give you a ‘Go Bucks,’” he said with a laugh.
Moments later, it becomes clear where his heart is.
“I like to see them grow from being this soft (kid), have no idea about how life is, how to be a grown man.
“The thing I love about strength training is as a strength coach, we see every player. When a player as an issue, we see it more than anybody else, because we're with them every day.
If a player has a girlfriend problem, or the loss of a loved one, the personal problem. you name it.
“I've heard almost every one in my young career so far. 'Coach, I'm depressed, I don't know what to do.' We hear it all.”
And position coaches only tend to deal with players at that position.
“That's the only thing I did not like about football coaching was the fact that I didn't get to know every player. It takes every player on that team to win a championship.
“That's the only thing. That's why it's hard to answer. I love the football coaching, because i love the Xs and Os, I love coaching, and I miss that.
“But at the same time, I'm a person who likes getting to know every player on this team, and knowing everything about them.”
HE LOVES WHAT HE KNOWS
Florida wasn’t running too smoothly when Parker was a player, but got going when Meyer got there.
One improvement was chemistry, which is a huge – and often overlooked by fans – key to success. Note the Gators’ two national titles.
And Parker thought those teams in 2006 and 2008 had a tightness he hadn’t seen.
They topped his list, until this year.
“I've never seen players like this. In ‘06 and ‘08, I thought they were very close. And they were close, don't get me wrong. But there's something different about this group, and it's different.
“When a player says, 'I have genuine love for you,' these boys really do mean it, and it shows. Where you see it is in the locker room.”
Some parts of the togetherness are a little unusual.
“You have a kicker hanging with the defensive linemen. You'd think that would be a weird conversation, but it isn't. They're sitting down having great in-depth conversations about anything on their minds.
“Now, kickers are kind of weird dudes, they kind of hang with themselves. But this team is a very different team.”
Part of it’s Meyer, part of it is the roller coaster the past 15 years with the program, part of it is the recent issues with the NCAA, part of it general hunger.
“The way our head coach is rubs off on our players. They've been hearing for the longest time, 'You can't win the big game, you can't do this, you can't do that.'”
Last year’s 11-2 season and loss in the Orange Bowl left a festering wound.
“Our guys had a lot of chips on their shoulder going into the offseason. We got embarrassed. The offensive line, (people) they said, 'There's no way they're going to be as good as last year." That kind of ticked them off.
“Had a lot of guys with chips on their shoulders, saying, 'OK, I'm tired of people talking, let's go back to work.'”Parker said there are times when players have been close to tears for not doing as well as expected, and not because they were yelled at by a coach.
"Before this year, I didn't see that. It's the craziest thing. I've never seen such a tight group. I'm a gator, I love florida. I'm not taking away from what those guys did, because they did something absolutely wonderful.
"I'm saying as far as the chemistry of this team here, it's the best, the tightest group I've ever seen in my life."