NATIONAL SIGNING DAY, FROM BOTTOM UP: Former Beaufort High defensive back Ron Parker takes own path to NFL's Chiefs

sfastenau@beaufortgazette.comFebruary 4, 2014 

At this time almost 10 years ago, Ron Parker had an offer from Newberry.

The school was last on his list, buried behind looks from S.C. State and Charleston Southern. Schools were interested, but wary, as the Beaufort High School defensive back waited for test scores to come back.

Eagles coach Mark Clifford asked Parker if he had considered junior college. Soon, Parker was headed to Independence, Kan.

Parker's path is a case study for those players who won't sign a National Letter of Intent on Wednesday -- or players who sign but don't qualify academically.

He just spent his first full season in the NFL, with the Kansas City Chiefs. His contract is for two years and $1.2 million.

Not bad for a kid from St. Helena Island.

But from Independence Community College to Kansas City, Parker had to endure a position change, burial on the depth chart, a dead-end relationship with a coach and lessons on the business of the NFL.

Parker credits a modest upbringing for helping him press on.

"I was never given nothing," Parker said one day in January while home visiting his sister in Port Royal. "At the end of the day, when I'm in tough situations -- when I get released or something happens in the league -- I go back to times when I didn't really have nothing. I just looked at it like 'Welp, it's another bump in the road. Keep it moving.' "

Parker participated in three preseason scrimmages at Independence the fall of 2005. By his count, he intercepted six passes during the exhibitions.

Independence coaches approached him before the regular season began and told he would sit his first year.

"They broke down the rules for me," Parker said. "They told me 'You'll have three years to play D-I.' That sounded like a good deal to me."

Parker decided to help by moving from defensive back to receiver on the scout team. He played so well, he said, that he began spring practice as the No. 1 receiver.

But after Parker came back to Kansas after going home for the summer and missing summer workouts, he found he had been buried behind first-year players on the receivers depth chart and was blocked from returning to the defensive backfield.

Coaches told him he didn't have to see the field to earn a Division-I scholarship. Just look at Coffeyville, they told him.

The fellow Kansas community college boasted a long list of players who had gone on to the NFL.

"I'm like, this ain't Coffeyville, this is Independence,'" Parker said. "At the time, it was hard for them to win football games."

Parker said he received a couple offers from schools in Iowa and Ohio to play receiver if he finished the season. But he couldn't deal with sitting out another season with no guarantee of what was next.

He called Todd Knight, then the Newberry defensive coordinator, who had recruited Parker in high school. Knight helped Parker enroll in the Division II school in the spring of 2007. Parker left Independence and worked a hospital job in Port Royal until time for the spring semester.

Clifford said not playing in Kansas eventually probably helped Parker. He returned to South Carolina with three seasons of eligibility.

"He's living proof if you really want to play and really want to do it, you can do it," Clifford said.

Parker wasn't quite in the clear. He still wasn't on the football field.

Parker said he clashed with then-head coach Zak Willis and was "last-string safety," when he arrived at Newberry. While taking summer school classes that first year while the football team was in camp, Parker said he tried to eat in the cafeteria with the football players but was told by Willis to eat with the soccer team.

Parker set down his tray of food and returned to his dorm room, followed by Knight, who told him to stick it out.

Willis later called Parker into his office and told him he would redshirt the 2007 season.

In 2008, four years after last having played in a football game, Parker played all 10 games for Willis and Newberry. He started two games at the end of the season.

Willis was fired the following spring and Knight named head coach. Parker felt he had an ally.

Parker started the 2009 season with 10 tackles, two interceptions and a pass breakup at Valdosta State. He would go on to be named South Atlantic Defensive Player of the Year and was named a Division II All American by two publications.

In 2010, Parker again led the conference with five interceptions. He felt sure he would become the first Newberry football player drafted since 1974.

The Seattle Seahawks called during the sixth round of the 2011 NFL Draft and said they would probably select Parker with one of three picks during the seventh round. But Parker didn't receive a call.

In July, on the first day teams could sign free agents after the lockout, Parker signed with Seattle.

Parker played in five games each of his first two years with Seattle, Oakland, Carolina and back to Seattle. In Seattle, Parker bonded with first-round pick Earl Thomas, staying at Thomas's house, playing video games and learning about life in the NFL.

Then the Seahawks, loaded in the secondary, waived Parker the final week of the 2013 preseason.

The Chiefs had signed Parker within 24 hours. And two weeks later, during a Sunday afternoon game against Dallas at Arrowhead Stadium, Parker made the play of his young career.

He blitzed from his spot behind the right defensive end, chased down Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, stripped the football and swallowed it up for a fourth-quarter turnover that helped preserve the Chiefs' 17-16 victory. His daughter, NaTyia, was in the stands.

Parker sometimes flew in NaTyia from Newberry, where she lives with her mother, to watch games in Arrowhead.

The rest of the games NaTyia watched via her NFL Sunday Ticket package. After a loss to the Colts in December, when Parker was seen on television leaving the field with an injury, his daughter asked him about it first thing on the phone after the game: "Daddy, what's the matter? You hurt your knee?"

Parker would play 16 games, starting the final game of the regular season. He finished with two interceptions.

He is hoping for a longer-term contract and that his daughter will soon live with him. Perhaps his nomadic days are behind him.

"I don't know if it was the path I came from, or just how I feel, but I feel like I can't ever get comfortable on a work day doing this business," Parker said. "I done seen so much stuff happen and stuff happen to me. I know how it works, so I'm never comfortable. I ain't never just sitting trying to relax."

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