January 3, 2014

Parker takes bumpy ride back home


Parker takes bumpy ride back home

Grant GrangerNew Westminster News Leader (image credit: Mario Bartel/NewsLeader)

Six years ago Keynan Parker was exhilarated by the journey he was about to embark upon. However, the road he took had unexpected twists, turns, bumps and detours, and oddly enough, brought him back home.

As 2008 began, the New Westminster native was coming off a fantastic senior season as the star running back and defensive back of the St. Thomas More Knights.

Not only were Canadian university football programs salivating at the prospect of the son of former B.C. Lions Hall of Fame defensive end James (Quick) Parker joining their squads but so were several south of the border.

“It’s been kind of up and down,” admits Parker of his journey since then.

Although he’d been invited to visit other NCAA Division I universities, Parker jumped at the opportunity to join the Oregon State University Beavers after a visit to the Corvallis campus.

Parker headed to Oregon State with dreams of playing before huge crowds. Even though he redshirted his first season there, which preserved a year of eligibility, he felt he had learned a lot about the university game.

When the 2009 season rolled around, Parker was excited to finally begin his collegiate career. But the day before the Beavers left for their season opener against the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, he dislocated his shoulder. It was the same shoulder he’d injured in the 2007 provincial championship game when the Knights lost to the Holy Cross Crusaders from Surrey.

The shoulder was still wonky when the team began practising again in the spring of 2010 so in the fall when the season started it hadn’t been battle tested. The defensive coaches said to him “we don’t know if you’re ready yet” and limited his playing time. That’s when his dream got a reality check.

“After that I felt like I got written off,” says Parker.

Although he’d learned a lot in his four years at a Division I program, Parker decided to return home to play Div. II for the Simon Fraser University Clan.

“The last year [of university eligibility], I just wanted to play. It’s not even about big school or anything like that. That’s when I decided to come home,” says Parker. “It was kind of like I need to do something now. If I’m only playing special teams [at OSU] is that really enough? If I want to do something I need to go somewhere.”

His biggest regret about his NCAA experience was not visiting other university campuses where the programs were interested in him prior to deciding on Oregon State. Although big schools like the University of California and University of North Carolina had come calling, he’d gone to Corvallis and loved the campus. Being close to home helped, too.

“I liked it so much I didn’t want to waver. I look back now and I should have seen what was out there,” he says wistfully.

While he contemplated going to SFU, the Montreal Alouettes drafted him in the sixth round, 42nd overall of the 2012 CFL draft. The news caught him by surprise because his father was never connected to the team and they were so far away from where he’d been playing.

“I really didn’t know what to think. I was curious of how Montreal even knew about me. I was excited I’d at least have an opportunity to try out somewhere,” says Parker.

He had a rough go of it for awhile in the Als’ training camp back in June because he’d never played Canadian rules. Although Parker thought he had a good camp the Als sent him home.

“It was one of the best things that happened to me because it gave me an appreciation for how it can be taken away from you in a second at this level,” says Parker. “It was a very humbling experience.”

Two days after he was sent packing, B.C. Lions player personnel coordinator Neil McEvoy invited him to join the Lions. The next day he was practising at the club’s facility in Surrey and was playing in his first CFL game in Calgary that weekend.

“That whole week was a roller coaster of emotions for me,” recalls Parker. “Sunday was one of the worst days of my life and then a week later I’m playing. It was crazy.”

When he walked into the Lions offices he was confronted by a larger-than-life poster of his father who had a larger-than-life personality with his prodigious quarterback sacks total and retired a year after Parker was born.

Of course, Parker was ribbed about his dad, especially by veteran defensive backs Korey Banks, Dante Marsh and Ryan Phillips. Every time he does something wrong someone will say, “what’s your daddy think about that?” The teasing seems to be never ending. “I don’t expect it to stop as long as Banks is around,” says Parker with a smile.

Quietly, Parker ended up playing 16 regular season games for the Lions, most of them as a special teams player although he did get to play defensive back in seven games.

Parker is spending the off-season trying to put some muscle on his slender frame so he can hold up to the rigours of the CFL grind. His goal is to become a starting defensive back.

“Now that I’m here it’s so crazy how this has worked out, playing the sport I love in the city I love. I feel truly blessed and grateful to be in this situation.”

Parker feels he’s pointed in the right direction now and, while there may be more detours, he intends to enjoy the ride.