Blue Springs senior Daniel Parker Jr. stood from a three-point stance and slid several steps to his left. Across the line of scrimmage, Park Hill quarterback Billy Maples pointed an index finger at him, signaling his whereabouts to a teammate.
In a Missouri Class 6 state semifinal matchup last weekend, it wasn’t that the Park Hill offensive line lost track of Parker. His 6-foot-2, 240-pound frame is hard to miss.
It’s just that it simply couldn’t do anything about him. Parker turned the backfield into his second home. He harassed Maples, one of the area’s top-producing quarterbacks, for the entire afternoon and sacked him four times.
“Man, I just like hitting people,” Parker said. “When a coach tells me (to) pass rush and get the quarterback, that’s one of my favorite things to do.”
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This is Daniel Parker in a nutshell. He makes the complicated X’s and O’s of football seem like elementary school math. It’s simply about going to getting the quarterback, he says. But in reality, the coaches had devised a game plan to move Parker to different spots on the defensive line throughout the game, preventing Park Hill from calling plays to avoid him.
Because that’s what defenses do. Avoid Parker at all costs. He is the owner of 16 sacks in his senior season. He is the next member of “D-Line Zou,” the Missouri Tigers’ defensive line that has consistently produced NFL talent.
But that’s for later. For now, Parker has one more high school game and one more opportunity to win a state championship that only narrowly eluded Blue Springs last fall. A year after placing second in the state, the Wildcats will face Christian Brothers College at 7 p.m. Saturday at Plaster Stadium in Springfield for the Class 6 title.
There’s a significantly different feeling for Parker as he approaches the final game of his high school career. The opportunity to make an impact is immense. One year ago, he was strictly an offensive lineman. Now, he’s a two-way player known as one of the best in the state.
“We’ve had two-way players in the past, but I can’t remember the last guy we had play o-line and d-line every snap like he does,” said Blue Springs coach Kelly Donohoe, who took over the program in 2000. “You worry about fatigue and the toll it takes on your body. He’s been very special because of that.”
It wasn’t the plan. Although Parker long ago committed — twice, actually — to Missouri as a defensive lineman, his varsity experience was strictly on the opposite side of the football entering his senior season, save a few plays here and there. Donohoe had planned to replicate that formula in 2017, with the offensive line in a greater need for Parker’s talent.
“I like offense. When you’re blocking somebody and your running back scores, the look on their face? Man... ” Parker said. “But I’ve always loved just hitting people and running people over. So it was in the back of my mind — man, I wanna play D-line.”
He talked his way onto the field for a couple of plays in a big early season game. Then a couple of more the following week. It snowballed from there.
As he learns the finer points of the position, Parker is showing steady improvement. He has seven sacks in the playoffs — all while remaining a focal point of the offensive line.
He makes it a goal to seldomly, if ever, check himself out of the game. Since playing on both sides of the football, he increased his conditioning work. He has a gym membership, and when he’s there, he runs, not lifts.
The substitutions have become rare. By his choice. And by his coach’s choice, too.
“We found out in a hurry what he could do on defense, but we told him we still need him to be dominant on offense. That was tough in the early going for him, but all of a sudden, he started playing really well on both sides of the ball for us,” Donohoe said. “It’s gotten to the point where we just don’t want to take him off the field. When Daniel goes, we go.”