[PUBLISHER’S NOTE, MARCH 1, 2015: Former contributing writer Desmond Bailey wrote this story in 2014.]
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The students of Beaufort High School in Beaufort, S.C., receive an annual visit from a popular alumnus: Chiefs cornerback Ron Parker.
Entering his fourth NFL season, Parker, 26, makes it a point to bring a message.
“I try to show them that they can make it and that there’s no excuse for them not to succeed in life,” Parker said in a phone interview. “When I was their age, I didn’t have any pro athletes talk to me and my friends. So I want to give the kids something that I didn’t have when I was growing up.”
Mark Clifford, Parker’s former football coach at Beaufort, knows first-hand the effect that that his former player’s visit has on the students.
“Ron is an inspiration to the kids in the community and the school,” Clifford shared in a phone interview. “He represents everything that we preach to the kids, which is mainly hard work and humility. He’s a great example and role model for them, which is why they always look forward to him visiting.”
Prior to last year’s campaign with the Chiefs, Parker, who played collegiately at Newberry College, endured stints as an undrafted free agent with the Seattle Seahawks (2011, 2012-13), Oakland Raiders (2011) and Carolina Panthers (2012).
But just as Parker inspires the youth of his hometown, so does his play on the football field inspire hope of a bright future with the Chiefs.
After being claimed by the team off waivers from the Seahawks on Sept. 1, 2013, Parker made his presence felt just two games into the regular season.
On a critical third down in the fourth quarter of a Week 2 clash with the Dallas Cowboys, Parker registered a sack, forced fumble, and fumble recovery, the latter being the first of his career. The play dramatically aided the Chiefs in sealing a tight 17-16 victory.
“That was the biggest play of my career at that point,” Parker said. “Being able to make that sort of impact in a game that close, it gave me a big boost in confidence and made me realize I can really do this. It was a major turning point for me.”
Parker finished the season with 17 tackles, three passes defensed and a pair of interceptions. The bulk of those numbers came in his lone start in Week 17 against the San Diego Chargers where he totaled six solo tackles, two passes defensed and returned an interception for 14 yards.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Parker saw the second-fewest amount of defensive snaps (95) among the team’s defensive backs. However, he posted the highest cumulative pass coverage grade (1.8) of any Chiefs cornerback and his pass rush grade (1.9) stands as the best in the secondary.
PFF’s data paints a clear picture of Parker maximizing his opportunities to shine. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that he covets more chances to contribute.
“I definitely feel with more playing time I could make more plays and get better,” Parker said. “I’ve always been confident. But last year made me realize I have the potential to be a special player if I earn a larger role on defense.”
In that regard, Parker said he received some encouragement from Chiefs coach Andy Reid.
“In our exit meetings after the playoff game, coach Reid said he thought I played well,” Parker shared. “He said I made some big strides over the course of the season and that he’s expecting even more improvement this year.”
Parker is currently participating in the first phase of the team’s voluntary offseason workout program where the players do strength and conditioning work as well as playbook study in the classroom.
For Parker, this portion of the offseason as well as upcoming training camp/preseason participation will be a first with the Chiefs. He views it as an opportunity to level the playing field in terms of knowing the defense and competing for a favorable position on the depth chart.
“Last year, when I came in I was behind in terms of knowing the defense,” Parker admitted. “But still I was determined to make something happen whenever my number was called.
“Now that I’m here from the start and I know the defense better, it’s just a matter of me going out there and trying to be the best at what I do. I basically want to get to the point where I’m no longer thinking and can just play off instinct. That’s the next step for me. Just having a complete understanding of the defense and what everybody’s role is.”
At 6-0, 206 pounds, Parker ran an official 4.36 40-yard dash during his 2011 Pro Day and seems to possess the physical tools to excel.
However, as a former Division-II free safety still adjusting to playing cornerback in the NFL, Parker is a promising work in progress. He credits Chiefs defensive backs coaches Emmitt Thomas and Al Harris for significantly helping him ease that transition.
“The area I most improved in was my man-to-man technique,” Parker shared. “They really focused on making me quicker in and out of my breaks. Being a bigger guy at corner, it’s key for me to be able to make those quick cuts. So overall they helped me become much better in man coverage.”
Despite the gains he experienced last season, Parker remains humble and grateful for everything that has brought him to this point.
And with the 2014 NFL Draft a week away, he offers some advice for incoming rookies that resembles the wisdom he shares with the youth in his hometown.
“Work hard and be on point with everything,” Parker said. “Be on time for all meetings and practices. Try to outwork everybody else. Minimize your mistakes and try to learn as much as you can. Be willing to do whatever the team asks you to do. Basically, show the coaching staff, show everybody how badly you want it.”