Parker trying to end up-and-down Clemson career on a high note

Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker (11) points the sky before running down the hill for the last time.

Photo by Nathan Gray

Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker (11) points the sky before running down the hill for the last time.

— Last Monday night, Dabo Swinney got a fitting bookend for Kyle Parker’s second and last season of college football.

Around midnight, Clemson’s head coach got a text from Parker, his sophomore quarterback, stating that he’d return for the Tigers’ bowl game.

Back in late July, the hype surrounding Clemson’s 2010 season kicked into overdrive following a similar late-night communiqué: Parker called Swinney and told him he’d be returning for his sophomore season instead of leaving for a pro baseball career with the Colorado Rockies, who made him a first-round pick in June’s MLB amateur draft.

He never lived up to the hype. Parker regressed from throwing 20 touchdowns against 12 interceptions as a freshman, tossing 12 touchdowns against 10 interceptions this fall.

He was also pulled from two games – N.C. State and South Carolina – after throwing bad interceptions, exchanging heated words with Swinney both times.

And when Parker departed following the 29-7 loss to USC without speaking to reporters, serious questions arose: was this the last we’d seen of him in a Clemson uniform?

Nope. Parker will start the Meineke Car Care Bowl against South Florida New Year’s Eve in Charlotte, although backup Tajh Boyd, his heir apparent, will play.

That, says Swinney, is a positive end to Parker’s truncated college career; even though the two have had their differences this year, Swinney says he deserves to go out on a high note.

“That’s what I love about my job – getting to be with young people every day and seeing them grow and mature,” Swinney said. “Disappointment is a part of life, a part of football for all of us. You have to handle it the right way. I’m really proud of Kyle in how he’s responded. How he responded to me personally in a one-on-one meeting and how he’s responded in other situations.”

Swinney has been Parker’s biggest cheerleader at times, insisting this summer that the QB could “be in an NFL camp right now;” he clearly has an affinity for the two-sport star.

“He’s done a lot for this university,” Swinney said. “He’s a young man I’m very close to and want nothing but the best for. Sometimes my kids will get out of line and I’ve got to discipline them. That’s part of being a dad, part of being a leader, and a coach.”

Swinney said the USC blowup – which came after Parker threw a pass returned 37 yards for a score by Antonio Allen, giving the Gamecocks a 26-7 lead – was “far from ugly.”

“That’s the bad thing about football these days,” he said. “I’ve seen ugly. That was actually mild compared to what I’ve seen, what I’d call ugly in terms of what can happen on a football field, a sideline, in a locker room. It’s just nowadays, there’s cameras everywhere.

“That’s unfortunate. The game of football is a game of passion, emotion, intensity, adrenaline, all those things. You take competitive people, put them in that type of environment and sometimes you have moments. I’d say it was far from ugly. It was a situation where it needed to be dealt with and it was.”

By sitting.

“He didn’t respond the right way, and my decision was to say, ‘Let’s think about this for a while,’” Swinney said. “See if we can grow up, take another step towards manhood. That’s exactly what happened. Kyle Parker is a first-class person.”

In a meeting several days later, Parker said Swinney told him “point blank, if I wanted to go, I was more than welcome to. If I wanted to stick around (he felt the same).”

Did he think about leaving? Sure. Parker is guaranteed a $1.4 million bonus from the Rockies and is expected to start his pro career next spring with the Class A Asheville Tourists.

That wasn’t the way he wanted to finish, though.

“It would be easy for me to turn the page and just move on to the next part of my life and go start practicing baseball,” he said. “But with that being said, I didn’t want one issue to ruin what I’ve had here for so long. And I didn’t want a bitter taste to be between me and the fans here, me and the university and the teammates I’ve had the pleasure of playing with. I think it’d go a long ways to just continue to practice, move on with a win.”

In Swinney’s eyes, that means playing Parker.

“The bowl game is about trying to win,” he said. “The best way to prepare for next year is to win this game. It’s about the guy that gives you the best chance to win, and that’s Kyle Parker.”

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