Parker emerges as playmaker for Skyline

By Brad Fauber

FRONT ROYAL — Skyline senior Jamal Parker spent most of last year’s football season studying the way former teammate Marcus Turner played the wide receiver position in the Hawks’ offense.

When it came time to fill the hole left by Turner’s graduation this season, Parker was eager to step in as Skyline’s new “X” receiver.

“I was excited about that opportunity,” Parker said after practice on Tuesday. “I knew that Marcus had left big shoes to fill. I started filling his shoes last year when he hurt his wrist, so I got a little taste of that. It makes you hungry, sitting behind all season watching a great player do great.”

Parker has settled in quite comfortably as an offensive playmaker for the Hawks. In last Friday’s 34-7 home win over Manassas Park, he showed just how dangerous he can be.

Parker, The Northern Virginia Daily’s Male Athlete of the Week for Sept. 14-20, hauled in just two passes for 37 yards in the Hawks’ third victory of the season, but both receptions went for touchdowns. The senior — a returning starter at cornerback for Skyline’s defense — also intercepted a pass from Manassas Park quarterback Jonathan Bunner and returned a kickoff 45 yards.

“He’s a weapon and you can’t give him the ball enough, that’s for sure,” Hawks coach Heath Gilbert said. “We have other guys who can do things too, which makes it nice. I think people, when they scout us, probably respect what we have across the board. That just makes a kid like Jamal … even more difficult to deal with when you have other guys that can possibly hurt you.”

Parker, a 6-foot-1, 160-pound speedster, has caught 15 passes this season for 356 yards (an average of 23.7 yards per catch) and five touchdowns. He also adds value as another threat in the Hawks’ multiple-I run game, as he’s a dangerous runner coming off the edge on jet sweeps and reverses.

Parker credited Turner for teaching him the art of running pass routes, but last Friday Parker said it was all about the offensive line, which allowed plenty of time for junior quarterback Corban Ruch (5 of 8, 93 yards, 4 TDs) to find his open receivers.

Ruch connected twice with Turner in the second quarter against Manassas Park, first on a 9-yard touchdown pass and again on a 28-yard strike to give Skyline a 14-0 lead.

“Our offensive line gave great time for the quarterback. If you watch the film, he was sitting in the pocket forever. That let him deliver good throws,” Parker said. “I think he was some crazy percentage, like half of his completions were touchdowns. That’s what happens when your line gives you good time like that. I just was on the receiving end of those great passes.”

Parker’s interception — his first of the season and third of his career — actually set up Skyline’s second scoring drive of the game. Parker said Bunner was forced to roll out due to good pressure from Skyline’s defensive line, and tight coverage in the secondary allowed Parker sit back and scan the field.

“There was no receiver on my backside, so I was pretty much a safety at that point. I think their receiver tipped it and I was able to catch it,” Parker recalled. “Everyone else was doing their job and I was just freelancing that play. Right place at the right time.”

It was the second time in his career that Parker caught a touchdown pass and intercepted a pass in the same game.

Gilbert said noticed an increase in Parker’s confidence entering the season, something that Gilbert attributed to maturation and Parker’s success on Skyline’s basketball and track and field teams last school year.

Gilbert also noted the senior’s intelligence — Parker attends the Virginia Governor’s School Program — and added that he is a good leader within Skyline’s football program.

All of that has led to a successful start to the 2014 season for Parker and the Hawks (3-1).

“Jamal has been fantastic,” Gilbert said. “He hasn’t missed a beat. He’s come in and done everything we’ve asked him to, and he’s better on Friday nights each week, which gets us even more excited about it. He came in this season with a great average per catch and per rush. He didn’t have as many opportunities as we would’ve liked to get him [last season], but he’s certainly taking advantage of that now.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com