South Lakes duo raising the bar -- Gazette.Net


South Lakes wide receiver Zac Parker can catch passes and find the end zone better than most anyone in the area.

Yet he says his real identity takes the form of a shutdown cornerback.

The Seahawks’ quarterback, Rashaan Jones, possesses enough arm strength, speed and elusiveness to make him one of the most dangerous signal callers around. Quiz him on his favorite part about football, though, and he’ll tell you it’s the feeling he gets from delivering a big hit.

The X’s and O’s of the game tend to magnify the importance of what lines players must trace on the field, but the reality is Parker and Jones are something even simpler than one-dimensional positions on a diagram: They’re pure football players.

As the focal points of a program that traditionally has struggled to pool together enough able bodies to contend in the Northern Region, Parker and Jones are beginning their seniors years with a great deal of responsibility on their shoulders.

“When you’ve got kids of that kind of ability in high school football, you just have to demand a lot from them,” South Lakes coach Marvin Wooten said. “The expectation is for them to put this team on their back and to lead this team to some wins this year and hopefully get us into the postseason.”

Indeed, South Lakes coaches want to see their dynamic duo exert influence on just about every play of each game. When he’s not thriving as a receiver or defensive back, Parker is using his speed and raw athleticism on special teams, where he leads the team in kick returns. And although he occasionally relishes an enforcer’s role at the strong safety position, Jones mostly is limited to playing quarterback by his coaches. That’s a change from last season, when he thrived as a wide receiver.

Anyone who has seen the Seahawks in action knows that when the two stars take the field together, the result can be spectacular. Such was the case in the first game of the season against Westfield, when South Lakes trailed the Bulldogs 7-0 early in the second quarter. Facing fourth-and-4 from the Westfield 33-yard line, Jones looked toward his favorite target and heaved a floater to the corner of the end zone. Parker rose above his defender and somehow managed to haul it in for the touchdown. The overmatched Seahawks went on to lose 51-13, but the shining performances of Jones and Parker were signs of better days to come.

While fully aware their team lacks the kind of depth displayed by schools such as Westfield or Stone Bridge, Parker and Jones think they are surrounded by enough talent to relive the accomplishments of 2010, when the Seahawks finished 8-4.

“We have high expectations for the season,” said Parker, who has played alongside Jones since their days of youth football. “We’re just trying to take it week-by-week, get some wins and get to the playoffs. ... I think we have more athletes than most of the teams in the [Liberty] District. If we put them all together and we get the ball to each one we can win a bunch of games.”

The most outstanding athlete of the bunch might be Jones, who’s known even more for his grace on the track than his dexterity with a football. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound track star cleared seven feet in the high jump competition at an indoor meet in January. It was the highest mark reached by anyone during the indoor track season, which makes Jones the top high jumper in the country heading into this season. This year he’ll be gunning for a height of 7 feet, 2 inches, although he says he’d like to hit 7 feet, 8 inches within the next four years, because that was, after all, the mark that won gold at this summer’s Olympic Games.

Parker never has been totally confined to football, either. Having once dreamed of playing basketball for a big time program such as Kentucky or North Carolina, he excelled on the hardwood during his freshman and sophomore years before coaches convinced him to devote his energies to the gridiron. He’s also familiar with the track, as he helped South Lakes’ relay team qualify for the state meet last season.

Still, South Lakes coaches appreciate the two students for more than just their athletic gifts.

“The best part about the whole thing is that they’re just great kids to work with,” Wooten said. “They’re very coachable and they both love the game of football. ... They both know that there’s a future in it, so they’ve really dedicated every day this offseason to getting better, and I think some of the younger kids have seen that and it’s starting to rub off on them.”

The prospect of playing in college has made this past year the most important of each players’ lives. Both have turned around their attitudes regarding schoolwork and buckled down in the classroom.

“Honestly, my grades weren’t always my main focus,” said Jones, who has garnered interest from several universities for track and football. “I wasn’t really dedicated to school like I was dedicated to sports, and that’s going to change dramatically this year. As soon as I get home that’s the first thing I’m going to do, knock out my homework and any other work I have to do because right now I have to get my grades up as much as possible if I want to get into a good school.”

Once a kid who struggled to find focus and motivation, Parker pushed himself this past summer to raise his grades and get noticed by college scouts. After finishing the previous school year with a ‘D’ in math, he completed a two-month summer class with an ‘A’ and decided to shoot for all A’s and B’s in his senior year. So far Parker has a scholarship offer from Bowling Green, but more are likely on the way.

The process of getting up early every day before class this summer to work out — and then following that up with an evening workout — prepared Parker well for his two-way duties on the football field.

“Throughout the summer I was working out basically every day on the field and getting my stamina up, so I don’t really get tired,” he said.

While games against Westfield and Stone Bridge have resulted in their team being outscored 121-26 during their 1-2 start, Parker and Jones think they can guide South Lakes to a playoff berth this season.

Whatever their win-loss record might indicate, though, Parker and Jones have found the right path.