IOWA CITY, Iowa – January’s Taxslayer Bowl was filled with memories Iowa would rather forget. And none of them stood out above Jonathan Parker’s snafu. That’s not to say it was the worst, just very visible.
Parker settled back to receive a second-quarter kickoff. The then redshirt freshman fielded the ball in a way that his momentum was carrying him out of bounds at around the two-yard line. Instead of letting the mistake end there, he tossed the ball into the field of play towards Tennessee cover men running at him.
Fortunately for the Hawkeyes, Parker was penalized for an illegal forward pass. Iowa retained possession, which ended up being inconsequential in a 45-28 beat-down.
Parker’s ill-advised action paled on comparison to other Iowa shortcomings on Jan. 2. It came after his team fell behind 28-0. Again, the reason it was talked and written about so much was because of how it unraveled in the open for everyone to see.
Seven months later, Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz worries about the impact the play had on Parker.
"It goes back to just the confidence. He’s got to get over what happened in the last ballgame. We all have. We’ve moved on, and he’s a year older just like everybody that’s in the program that was here last year," Ferentz said.
Parker (5-8, 185) insists that the play is behind him.
"I’m not tripping. I’m ready for this year. People don’t believe it but I’m just going to make people believe. I know what I can do. I’m not worried about it," he said at the team’s media day here on Saturday.
Parker’s ability to survive and advance could aid Iowa’s cause a great deal this season. He possesses the speed and big-play making ability not abundant on the roster.
The St. Louis Christian Brothers High product ranked eighth in the Big Ten with a 22.1-yard kick return average in 2014. BTN.com tabbed him as a first-team freshman all-conference pick at that specialty.
As a running back, Parker carried 16 times for 141 yards and caught three passes for 42 last fall. Most of his rushes came on the jet sweep, including the highlight of his college career, a 60-yard touchdown sprint against Indiana.
Parker’s small frame prevents him from being a guy you can slam through the tackles very often. That fact now has him playing receiver instead of running back. The idea is to let him loose in space.
"That was our motivation for talking to him about moving, and we’re hoping that we can use him in a real effective way," Ferentz said. "He should be a better football player. He’s trained hard, but there’s some newness there for sure. We think he’s got some ability and potential to help us. We’ll try to use him in a smart way out there."
Parker welcomed the change if it meant an opportunity to get on the field more. He sat down the running back depth chart and, again, didn’t boast the physique to carry a lot of the load at that spot.
"It’s going faster than what I expected," Parker said of his transition. "I’m catching on so it’s going well."
Parker said he did not play receiver in high school. He did run routes while lining up at running back. He said getting in and out of his breaks has represented the biggest adjustment.
Iowa has been searching for a dynamic slot receiver since Greg Davis took over as offensive coordinator three years ago. It may have found that in Parker.
"Coach asked me (about switching positions) and I thought it would be a good thing for me to do just to show that I can do everything," Parker said.
Teammates Jacob Hillyer, Matt Vandeberg and Andre Harris have helped Parker learn receiver, he said.
Asked what he brings to his new position, Parker summed it up in one word, "Speed."
Parker recorded a 10.79-second 100 meters and 21.62 200 during his ’13 high school track season, according to athletic.net.
"I think that’s been a good addition, not only for our group, but also just for our team," receiver coach Bobby Kennedy said of Parker in the spring. "Getting him on the field and allowing him to play in
different situations rather than just on the fly sweep I think will not only help that play, but also he’s got very good hands, so I’m excited to see him."
Cornerback Desmond King said at media day that he would be the team’s main kick returner to start this season. The Hawkeyes have been utilizing a diamond formation so Parker could find himself back deep as well.
Whatever his role ends up being, Parker appears confident he can get the job done, his bowl game gaffe in the past.
"It’s adversity. If something changed and something good would have happened out of it, people would have reacted a different way. Since it went bad, they reacted that way. It is what it is. You just try things and (sometimes) things don’t go your way. Either way it goes, you get over it. It’s life. Things happen," he said.