Healthy Parker, Tight Ends Seek A Step Forward | National sports
Daniel Parker Jr.’s 2020 season was like the rest of college football in the midst of a pandemic: uninspired, forgettable, and widely best used as an example of how things shouldn’t be. A promising but unspectacular second season gave way to a junior year where his development stabilized for a handful of reasons beyond his control.
After the start of the season was delayed by nearly a month, the tight end suffered a concussion and missed another month. When he came back he didn’t feel fit and didn’t feel like himself anymore. He finished the year with eight catches for 37 yards in five games, all below his 2019 numbers.
Over the offseason he regained the form he wanted to be, losing around 240 pounds. He’s now a senior and looking to lead a close attack that was almost non-existent in the passing game at times last season. All of the Tigers’ tight ends totaled 27 receptions and two touchdowns.
“We share the load,” Parker said. “I don’t feel like we’re relying on a specific (positional) group in the red zone. I just feel like we need to do better.
“I just feel like he’s the best Daniel the world is going to see.”
Joining Parker in the squad are junior Niko Hea, junior redshirt Messiah Swinson and rookie Ryan Hoerstkamp. While none have posted impressive numbers, all have the frames and athleticism that suggest – at the very least – potential. Swinson is 6 feet 8 inches tall. Parker arrived on campus in 2018 as a defensive end, going on the offensive in the middle of fall camp.
Hea is still a newcomer to the game, having only learned about it in high school. Even then, he was mostly a receiver. He enters the season with another year of development and understanding under his belt. Part of that came from watching Parker and current Denver Bronco Albert Okwuegbunam.
“I learned a lot from Daniel about blocking the race,” said Hea. “It’s something he’s proud of and I should be proud too if I’m going to be one of the greats here. So I got that out of his game, I also learned some of his passing game. Running, on top of roads, stuff like that. It means more to me, so I’m working on it for this year.
The group’s wild card is Hoerstkamp, a three-star rookie from Washington, Missouri, who signed up for Missouri in the spring.
“I think he’s going to come a long way,” Parker said. “Right now we don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re just focusing on trying to improve everyone by trying to bring everyone in and develop each player the best we can, and we’ll see. what will happen when the season begins.
That said, playing time is always up for grabs. Hea and Parker, like last season when everyone was healthy, will get the lion’s share of the shots. The third wheel of the group is still undetermined and has the potential to remain so after the start of the season.
“We’ll just have to see week after week what the game plan calls for and who we need and how we think it fits into the attacking defense,” Drinkwitz said.