Clemson University

Tigers' Parker weighing options for football, baseball

Former Bartram Trail (Fla.) quarterback Kyle Parker will compete for the starting Clemson quarterback job with Willy Korn.
Former Bartram Trail (Fla.) quarterback Kyle Parker will compete for the starting Clemson quarterback job with Willy Korn.

CLEMSON -- Fitting baseball in around football duties required a few accommodations for Kyle Parker's schedule last spring.

The Clemson freshman, who enrolled in January as a scholarship quarterback, was allowed to leave football practices early -- or often miss position meetings -- because he would be redshirting and wouldn't play this season.

During the process, the Tigers discovered they had a talented baseball player, too -- Parker was the only freshman hitter to earn first-team All-ACC honors.

Parker's prowess at the plate has created an intriguing conflict of interests the next few years for Clemson, one that all involved parties seem intent on handling with care.

Baseball season is around the corner, but Parker might not be able to hop on a golf cart and head to the stadium at his convenience anymore.

The Tigers will have a new starting quarterback in 2009, and coaches expect Parker to give redshirt freshman Willy Korn a run.

"It will be a little different, and I'll come in with a different mind-set," Parker said. "This will be my first time being able to compete for a job with the football team. So I'm real excited about that."

Parker said he has yet to meet with football coach Dabo Swinney and baseball coach Jack Leggett to set his spring-semester schedule, but he feels confident making two predictions.

He will miss more baseball time than a year ago. On the other hand, he does not think he will be forced to give up baseball, because his biggest two-sport ally is the man now calling the shots for the football team.

Swinney was Parker's recruiter and served as the liaison between Leggett and former football coach Tommy Bowden when Parker's schedule was being hashed out last spring.

"He knows how important it is to me, and he's understanding," Parker said. "He's going to do his best to ensure I'm here when I need to be here for the scrimmages, but when I need to be on the baseball field, I'll be there."

Parker, a Jacksonville, Fla., native, will not play in what amounts to a Jan. 1 Gator Bowl homecoming.

Yet his increased role in Clemson's practices has begun to underscore the tug of responsibility two-sport athletes feel toward the sport that pays their tuition.

When Swinney took over as interim coach at midseason, he pulled Parker off the scout team to begin his acclimation to Clemson's offense.

Parker attended more offensive meetings, was allowed to signal in plays and garnered practice reps.

It marked an abrupt change from fired offensive coordinator Rob Spence's philosophy of divvying work based strictly on one's depth-chart position.

Parker missed the final three weeks of regular-season practices after undergoing minor surgery on his right (throwing) wrist because of a ligament injury sustained while lifting weights in late September.

He had the surgery during the season so he would be ready for baseball, but he has returned in time for bowl practices. In the first two workouts, he was given reps in 7-on-7 passing drills, drawing a compliment from Swinney on Monday for his "laser arm."

It is an arm that will be tugged in two directions in a matter of weeks.

Baseball practices begin Feb. 1, generally when the football team is holding its grueling morning mat drills.

Assuming Clemson holds its usual spring football practices in March and early April, that could put Parker in danger of missing a weekend baseball series at perennial stalwart Florida State and affect his participation in a home series against powerhouse Miami.

The baseball team arguably might be better equipped to handle Parker's absence this season, yet Swinney said he remains committed to allowing Parker the best of both worlds.

"It's just part of having a dual-sport athlete," Swinney said. "He's on football scholarship, and he's here to do a good job, so ... it's different than last spring.

"We'll try to work around that and minimize the impact on baseball, because it's important that we have a very good baseball team. And based on what we saw last year, he's a pretty good player and can help them."