In the winter after his senior season at Staley High School, Dalton Parks faced a choice.
Parks, who played quarterback, receiver and safety as well as placekicking and punting duties, could go play for a Division II team on scholarship ... or he could bet on himself and pursue his dream of playing Football Championship Subdivision football as a walk-on at Tulsa.
He chose the latter.
“I could have gone and played D-2 almost anywhere,” Parks said. “I didn’t want to, and my parents didn’t have money to pay for college, so I took out a loan.”
Good decision. Parks took over the punting duties at Tulsa as a walk-on true freshman, and was one of five true freshmen to earn a letter as he averaged 39.5 yards in 66 punts. The next spring, he was put on scholarship — and the Kansas City native never looked back.
“Not getting a scholarship out of high school mentally showed me that my life was going to be one of those where I’m gonna have to work for everything I have — nothing comes free,” Parks said. “It was going to take hard work to get where I wanted to be someday.”
Where he wanted to be was the National Football League. And now, he stands on the cusp of doing so, as he’ll participant in the Chiefs’ three-day rookie minicamp — which starts Saturday — as one of several tryout players hoping to catch the eye of special-teams coach Dave Toub.
“From a business perspective, obviously it’s life-changing,” Parks explained. “It’s really hard to explain ... my dad was a season-ticket holder as long as he could be and could afford it. I grew up going to games and now I have a professional, God-given gift I can offer teams for a low price. If I could do this for free, I would. It’s pretty amazing.”
Parks has worked hard to be ready for this moment. His senior-year stats are solid — he punted 64 times for 2,672 yards, an average of 41.8 yards per punt, and also landed 22 of them inside the 20-yard line. What people didn’t see are all the hours of practice, all the time spent at punting camps, that went into that.
“I didn’t have time or money to redshirt, so I started watching YouTube videos more and more and next thing you know started hitting some footballs and saying man, you know, I think I could be pretty good at this punting thing,” Parks said. “I started going to punt camps and comparing myself to other guys, and I saw I didn’t have a limit.”
Parks, who is listed at 6 feet 3 and 209 pounds, says he also gained about 40 pounds during his time at Tulsa, and that — plus all the work he did on his technique — helped him land this opportunity.
“I just wanted to punt it higher, farther, make it spiral more,” he said. “I just pushed myself and expected the NFL. That’s my goal, it’s always been my goal. It’s how I’m wired and put together.”
Parks knows it’s a long road to an NFL roster. There’s only 32 roster spots for punters across the league, and the Chiefs, for instance, currently carry one of the league’s best in Pro Bowler Dustin Colquitt, although he is about to enter the final year of his deal.
But for a man who has never allowed anyone to place limits on his dream, those are odds Parks — who hopes to be one of the lucky few to earn a free-agent contract from the camp — is willing take.
“It would be emotional,” Parks replied, when asked what it would mean to him to be signed by his hometown team. “I’d probably need 24 hours to get myself together but it wouldn’t take more than that to get on the ball and get to work. I would be completely blessed and lucky.”