Football fans love stories about the strong-armed high schooler born to play quarterback. Part of the fascination is how they project to the next level in America’s most popular sport.
These days, the kids are usually 6-foot-3, possess a strong arm, have a calm mind to read defenses and presence to lead teammates.
But what if you have all those qualities except height?
If you’re Granville Central’s Jay Parker, you set records anyway.
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The 5-foot-9 ½, 175-pounder has started every varsity game for the Panthers since his freshman year. He has thrown for 2,333 yards and 26 touchdowns as a senior and 9,481 yards, 98 touchdowns for his career (both Granville County records).
“We’ve spent so much time together it’s like he’s the offensive coordinator on the field,” said Granville Central coach John Hammett. “I knew he would be special before his first game as a freshman. I’m home watching TV on a Sunday night, and he’s texting me with questions about the defense we’re playing in our opener. I thought that was amazing that he would be home on a Sunday night watching film.”
Parker loves to be in the middle of things. In basketball, he’s Granville Central’s point guard. One of his roles is playing in the back of the press to read for steals errant passes forced by trapped opponents. In baseball, he roams center field to track down balls.
What he lacks in football physical gifts he makes up for with intangibles that some gifted athletes never gain.
“I think because I’ve always been small, I knew I had to play smart,” Parker said. “It’s fun to outsmart people.”
Parker’s presence on the field is immediately recognizable when he drops back into shotgun formation. His head pivots as he checks the positioning of his receivers and backs. He motions with his hands in a snapshot out of Peyton Manning highlight video. When he takes the snap, the ball is on its way to the open receiver as he turns on his pattern. He throws the short ball on time and the long ball drops into the receiver’s hands in stride.
“I think every quarterback should try to be like Peyton Manning the way he can diagnose a play,” Parker said. “If you can be a coach on the field, it’s hard to defend that. But growing up my favorite player was Brett Favre. He always seems to make things happen.
When he’s forced to run, he executes a Russell Wilson-like textbook slide to avoid punishment for a guy who accounts for 90 percent of his team’s yardage.
“The sliding is something my coaches tell me to do more,” Parker said.
Parker’s grooming as a quarterback began in youth football leagues and while working in the backyard with his father, Jeremy Parker, a quarterback in his high school days at South Granville.
Hammett sized up quickly what he had on the way up from the middle school. Hammett arrived at Central with a run-oriented spread when Parker was an eighth-grader. But the next season he transitioned his scheme to a pass-oriented spread to use Parker’s skills.
“We could see the winter of his eighth-grade year when he came over to lift weights that he had a presence about him and a will to win,” Hammett said. “When we had workouts the summer before his freshman year, you could tell he had command of the game and the offense’s concepts. He understood coverages and routs. We started to build around that. It’s been a fun deal.”
The offense continued to evolve each year as his body matured.
“The first couple of years I wasn’t strong enough to make all the throws, but I knew where the ball was supposed to go,” Parker said.
Last year Central advanced to the playoffs, although they were eliminated in the first round to finish with a 7-5 record. Parker lost his receivers this season to graduation, but the Panthers won their first conference championship, going 8-3.
For now, Parker has put off the decision to continue using his beautiful football mind in college or give up the game to attend a larger school. His interest is from NCAA Division II, III and NAIA schools.
“I’m really hoping to keep playing football,” he said. “I want to find the right program. I could probably go to a smaller school and have a good four years there. If I’m too stubborn to go to a smaller school, I might end up regretting that.”
As for Granville Central, things will be different in 2016 without Parker.
“Next year we’ll probably go back to a running game,” said Hammett.