Walker Parks hails from Kentucky, a state known for its horses. Yet the experience Clemson’s junior offensive lineman has working closely with the animals has largely been limited to this point of his life.
“I didn’t grow up on a horse farm. I never really worked on a farm,” Parks said. “I didn’t grow up a farm boy, but I’ve always dreamed of working on a ranch.”
That became reality for Parks earlier this year, even if it was for a brief time. Through Clemson’s PAW Journey program, an initiative that helps professionally develop Tiger football players, Parks spent two weeks this spring interning as a ranch hand at Segars Ranch in Montana. During that time, Parks helped care for the ranch’s livestock, including a horse named Blackjack that he tried to help tame.
“They said that was the mean horse,” Parks said. “Every time we were feeding other horses, this horse would come up and bite at their ears, kick them out of the way or whatever. Just cause chaos.”
Parks got the horse calmed down long enough to quickly get a photo with it.
“I got some grass in my hands, got up there and fed him,” Parks said. “Don’t be fooled. I was scared to death. I thought he was about to kick me or something. Got the picture and hopped back over the fence real quick before he got after me.”
— walker (@walkerparks64) May 12, 2022
But there was much more to Parks’ duties during those two weeks.
Wildfires in the area demolished some of the ranch’s property, so Parks spent a lot of his time helping construct the replacements. There was a barn that had to be rebuilt as well as a barbed-wire fence that needed to be reinstalled, poles and all.
Toting a 50-pound gas post driver up the side of a mountain, Parks was responsible for putting new posts in the ground and helping restrand the wire, stopping about every five feet to run another pole into the rocky terrain.
“And you walk all the way back a mile, run the first strand of barbed wire, go back, run a second and run a third,” Parks said. “I have a lot of respect for those people. It was hard work. Really hard work.”
Parks was doing it in much thinner air than he’s used to in Kentucky and South Carolina. With Montana having an average elevation of more than 3,000 feet, the altitude often had Parks gasping for air.
“I made it 15 yards, and I was like, ‘Hold on, fellas,’” Parks said with a laugh. “I had to sit down a few times and take a few water breaks. Of course, they had dudes out there that had been running and making those fences for 30 years. They can do a mile in 10 minutes, and we probably got like five feet in 10 minutes.
“Definitely a bit of an adjustment, but it was all good. I lived.”
Parks said it also helped his endurance upon his return to the Southeast. One of the more experienced offensive linemen on Clemson’s roster, Parks enters his third season with the program having started 13 of the 24 games he’s played, all at tackle. He’s added roughly 15 pounds to his 6-foot-5, 315-pound frame as he prepares to play either tackle or guard this fall.
Yet Parks said he started preseason camp in better physical shape in part because of his experience out West.
“I was not ready for that,” he said. “When they said internship in Montana, I was like, ‘All right, cool. I get to go ride horses and be a cowboy for a while.’ And I was up there building fences. I was like, ‘All right, a little bit different mentality.’”
But the experience was largely a positive one for Parks, who hopes to have his own ranch in the future. So much so that Parks said he would do it all over again if he could.
“I want to have land one day whether it’s back in Kentucky or here (in Clemson), Montana or wherever,” he said. “I love the ranch life.”
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