OXFORD – For Nick Parker, the news that he would be eligible to play football at Ole Miss as a true freshman was not necessarily surprising, but it was immensely satisfying.
Lots of recruits have gone from prep power South Panola to productive college careers, and coach Lance Pogue says he and his staff are working to ensure that more of them reach the college campus right out of Batesville without needing prep school or junior college work first.
Pogue says Parker, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound running back, has been approved by the NCAA clearinghouse, a fact he sees as progress.
“There’s no question we’ve made great effort in that area,” Pogue said. “This year we had Parker sign with Ole Miss, and he was cleared. We had Devin Clark sign with Memphis, and he was cleared, and had another running back, Domonique Carothers signed with Delta State, and he was cleared.”
Parker is not enrolled in summer school at Ole Miss but is involved in the team’s strength and conditioning program and has taken part in voluntary seven-on-seven work.
Freshmen and newcomers officially report and come under the care of the coaching staff on Aug. 6.
Parker rushed for 1,679 yards and 22 touchdowns last year, helping Class 6A South Panola to the state championship, the school’s third in his four years in the program.
He was relied upon more heavily as a junior when he gained more than 2,500 yards, ran for 26 touchdowns and carried the ball 58 times in a playoff win at Northwest Rankin.
“He’s got good size, and he’ll be at 225 or 230 pounds one day soon,” Pogue said. “But what people don’t realize is he’s got great speed. He had a lot of long-yardage touchdowns.”
Parker was rated the No. 32 running back in the country by Scout.com, the No. 28 running back by ESPN.com, but on signing day he had not yet taken the ACT, the required standardized test.
“I was just taking my time. I didn’t want to rush it,” he said.
Still, it was a strategy that left him with fewer chances to make the qualifying score. As it turned out, one was enough.
“I studied hard, and I was prepared, but when I got the news I was cleared it felt real good. I was happy,” Parker said.
“We felt good about him qualifying all along, because we knew he was a caliber kid and worked hard. He was hungry. He was prepared and did well on the ACT,” Pogue said.
One of three incoming signees at running back – One of those is a fullback – Parker sees an opportunity at a position where the Rebels lost their most productive player, Dexter McCluster, and do not have an established starter.
When practice begins a month from now juniors Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis and sophomore Rodney Scott will be the top candidates to start, though Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt usually spreads the carries around. The 2009 season was atypical once McCluster got rolling.
“Right now I’m just running and lifting weights and loving it,” Parker said. “It’s very different, a whole different level. I’m expecting to play this year. The competition is open. There’s a spot to take, and it’s all up to me.”
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal