CLEMSON -- Redshirt freshman quarterback Kyle Parker has an outstanding arm, one of the strongest in the country. In the spring and summer he has showed creativity, buying time with his feet while keeping his eyes downfield. Offensive coordinator Billy Napier was especially impressed with his ability to absorb the offense.
But what of pressure? What of the 80,000 pairs of eyes in Memorial Stadium on Saturday dissecting every decision? What of third-and-long pass rushes on the road, pass rushers in sprinting stances, backed by frenzied fans?
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is optimistic Parker can cope. Swinney says he has the 'it' factor related to intangibles. Swinney says it's not just faith-based, he has some evidence.
Back in June, Parker, a freshman All-American in baseball last year, had been benched for the starts of game four and five in the Clemson Regional. He was one for his last 10 when he came on to pinch-hit in the eighth inning, two runners on, Clemson trailing by a run. After struggling for much the second half of the baseball season, Parker lined a two-run single to left that gave Clemson the lead against Oklahoma State and a regional title.
Swinney watched it unfold from behind home plate.
"Look at Kyle in the regional game," Swinney said. "He was struggling
there a little bit all of the sudden he gets up there and rips one down third base and sends them to the Super Regional. I think that shows what the kid is made of.
"It is a long way to the dugout when you strike out with the game-winning run on third base. It's just a different atmosphere. It shows a real mental toughness, I think."
To illustrate Parker's physical gifts, Swinney could have recalled another Parker hero moment from the spring, Parker's dazzling Spring Game performance followed by a pair of home runs for Jack Leggett's squad later in the day.
"Being in a big-time situation at bat with a lot of pressure on you, I guess you can apply a little of that to football," Parker said. "I have been in big pressure situations before."
Though not of the football variety, yet, with tens of thousands of fickle Sunday morning quarterbacks in attendance.
Those following Clemson know of Parker's arm strength, and they know he began to separate from Willy Korn back in March. What remains to be examined is his in-game composure, decision-making and leadership skills.
To help with that, Clemson has put Parker under duress during team practices.
"Out there in practice Da'Quan (Bowers) and Ricky (Sapp) are barreling down on him and he just steps up in the pocket and makes throws," tight end Michael Palmer said. "I don't even see him and sure enough the ball comes out."
Senior guard Thomas Austin said Parker has more of a sense of ownership at the position since Parker was named the starting quarterback two weeks ago.
Parker says he is becoming more confident in giving orders and dishing out constructive criticism.
"If I see something a receiver does that they could do a little better," Parker said, "I won't hesitate to go up to them and say 'Hey man, you need to break that off a little more.' "
But what about the first pocket collapsing with receivers blanketed downfield and time running low?
"Kyle is a very even-keel kid," Swinney said. "He really doesn't get overwhelmed with anything."
With a veteran offensive line and a Heisman candidate in the backfield, the staff will ease offensive burdens upon Parker. How long the training-wheels process goes on for remains to be seen as Swinney does want this to be a balanced team.
"We want Kyle to be aggressive and do what he does," Napier said. "I think he is a smart enough kid. If things don't go exactly right, I think he is prepared for adversity. Dealing with the negative and with the success, not getting sloppy and looking at the scoreboard."
He's won over the staff and teammates. In a few hours, he'll go before a larger jury.
Reach Travis Sawchik at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out his Clemson blog at www.postandcourier.com/blogs/tiger_tracks.
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