CLEMSON -- Dabo Swinney was so anxious to learn if Kyle Parker was returning to play football this summer, on Parker's decision day the Clemson coach took the quarterback's phone call after midnight, wandering in pajamas out to his neighborhood cul de sac. Some Clemson fans thought the return of the 2009 Freshman All-American's whip of a release and strong arm would equal another run at an ACC title.
Yet Parker's decision to put pro baseball on hold for one last fall has resulted in a middling season with Clemson being an underdog against rival South Carolina at 7 p.m. Saturday.
In nearly every way possible to measure a quarterback -- efficiency rating, yards per attempt, touchdowns, interceptions, and most important, wins -- Parker's numbers declined this season.
Still, the Clemson staff insists Parker has not regressed this season.
"He has been the same guy," Clemson offensive coordinator Billy Napier said. "Last year, he wins the job and there are great players around him, and basically he just spreads the ball around. He was kind of an underdog … nobody knew him. This year, there is not as much of a veteran skill group, and all of a sudden it is his show."
Parker's campaign was hurt by losing the fastest player at the 2010 NFL combine (Jacoby Ford) and the first running back selected in the NFL draft (C.J. Spiller).
Despite Parker's lower production across the board, the sophomore believes he's made strides as a quarterback this fall.
"I think I've definitely made improvements," Parker said. "From a wins and loss standpoint; from a stats standpoint, it has not shown."
If he could make a considerable production jump as a junior quarterback, as he did on the baseball field, will never be known. Though he has two years of eligibility remaining, Saturday will be his last home game at Clemson, as he has elected to focus on a baseball career next year. Parker was selected in the first round of the baseball draft in June by the Colorado Rockies and signed a deal that included a $1.4 million signing bonus.
Because of Clemson's run to the College World Series in baseball, Napier believes it was significant Parker did not participate in football activities during the summer. Parker has just recently begun to build chemistry with young receivers Jaron Brown and DeAndre Hopkins.
"I think you have seen him get frustrated," Napier said. "At Boston College his frustration level reached a high level and he made some bad decisions. Since then, I think he's learned to play within the system."
Parker has completed 63 of 90 pass attempts (70 percent) and had two of his four 200-yard passing efforts since the loss at Boston College. Clemson needs Parker to continue that trend against South Carolina's 104th ranked passing defense, which has lost one of its starting corners, Chris Culliver, to a season-ending injury.
"As that (receiver) lineup has gotten consistent and we've built some continuity and confidence, you've seen him improve," Napier said.
Parker also said it took him longer than he would have liked to heal from a rib injury sustained in the third week against Auburn, an injury that has affected his statistical bottom line in losses to North Carolina and Miami.
"It kind of lingered with me longer than I really wanted it to," Parker said. "I don't think I really felt awesome until two or three weeks later."
Swinney said in August he thought Parker had the talent to make an NFL roster. An NFL scout told the Sporting News Parker was the second best sophomore quarterback prospect in the country behind Stanford's Andrew Luck. ESPN recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill said Parker would have been his top-rated recruit in the 2008 class if he was 6-4 and not a modest 6 feet in height.
But his football stock has fallen, rated as the No. 6 quarterback in the 2013 class by NFLDraftscout.com entering the season and now down to the 21st quarterback in the class.
Parker could still explore NFL options as he is draft eligible in April, but his future is almost certainly in baseball.
"I think I was a little more uncertain earlier in the year," said Parker of his future sport. "I feel like this experience coming back kind of cleared things for me. When you know you have an opportunity like I have at the next level to play (baseball) -- not a lot of people have that opportunity."
Parker will run down the hill along with the rest of the seniors on Saturday.
"It's kind of been up and down," Parker said of the season. "I think there are some really good things and not some good things."
Check out the Clemson blog at postandcourier.com/blogs/tiger_tracks and follow Travis Sawchik on Twitter (@travis_sawchik)