When he arrived on campus this summer, Clemson true freshman offensive tackle Walker Parks felt he was fairly knowledgeable about the game of football and how to play his position.
But once fall camp rolled around, and he had to face off against phenom freshmen like Myles Murphy, Bryan Bresee and other talented members of the Tigers’ defensive line, the competition served as a wake-up call for Parks and made him realize he didn’t know nearly as much as he thought he did about what it takes to have success as an offensive lineman in college.
In high school, Parks was able to just use his sheer strength and force to physically dominate opposing defensive linemen who were about half his size. But once he got to Clemson, the former four-star prospect and top-50 national recruit from Lexington, Ky., quickly learned he had a lot to work on and improve upon, especially from a technique standpoint.
“Coming here in fall camp, I remember doing one-on-ones – the first couple days of one-on-ones, I was being absolutely dogged by these guys,” Parks said on Tuesday. “That’s when I realized that my pass set was pretty bad, and I needed to work on my stance and weight distribution and work on my punch and pretty much everything all around. In high school, these guys weren’t that fast or that strong, so if I got hands on them, it was pretty much over. But now, if you’re not technically sound all around, you’re going to get whooped by these guys, and that’s what really made me realize that I didn’t know as much as I thought – how to walk my feet on run blocking, how to push my hips through and where to place my hands.
“Because really, for an offensive lineman, it’s a game of technique. If you don’t have technique, you’re going to lose, and there’s a lot of things that I didn’t know that I’m learning now and still continuing to learn as I go against these guys every single day.”
Thanks to the help and tutelage of offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell and older offensive linemen such as tackles Jackson Carman and Jordan McFadden, Parks has come a long way in his development since he stepped foot on campus in June – so much so that he has earned the trust of the coaching staff and garnered early playing time.
Parks, who has played 61 total snaps thus far this season while serving as the backup to Carman at left tackle, was hopeful he would see the field early after the Tigers lost four starting offensive linemen from last season. However, he did not expect to appear in each of Clemson’s first four games, as he has.
“Being a freshman, I know my place and I know that if they need me, they need me, and if they don’t, they don’t,” Parks said. “So, I had really no expectations. But being able to get early playing time means a lot to me, and I’ve had a blast doing it.”
“But that’s part of the reason why I chose Clemson is they play a lot of guys early and they try to play as many people as they can,” Parks added. “So, coming in, being ready for that, that’s a great opportunity as a freshman that a lot of other guys don’t get at other schools. So, I’m very grateful for that.”
Along with Caldwell, Carman and McFadden, Parks credits his father – former Kentucky offensive lineman David Parks – for helping him learn the playbook and getting him ready for the start of his career as a Tiger.
“When we started Zoom meetings about two months before I got onto campus, I was able to meet with the guys and start going over the plays and everything, and I really studied the playbook,” Parks said. “And with my dad playing at Kentucky and being my coach my entire life, he’s really pushed me, and he helped me work out every day and focus on the playbook and help me understand the plays, because that’s another big thing that I had to learn coming in.
“I still don’t understand a lot of things about football, like how to read a defense, what defenses mean – as stupid as it sounds, like inside, outside zone. I didn’t know that coming in here. In high school, it was just kind of like play football and do what you’re told to do. I didn’t understand a lot of the things like that, so I’m learning how to understand those things and moving forward that way.”
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