Daniel Parker thriving after switching to tight end

Parker was thrown into action last Saturday after injuries to Kendall Blanton and Albert Okwuegbunam.

Drew Lock turned in the pocket, but he hesitated when he saw his target.

Kendall Blanton was out with a foot injury, and a shoulder tweak had sent Albert Okwuegbunam to the locker room moments earlier, so Lock was left with one option at tight end: freshman Daniel Parker.

“I knew what my read was,” Lock said. “I didn't look to see who was exactly in the game at the time, and I went to go throw it, made eye contact with Daniel and I was like, ‘Oh my.’”

After some deliberation, Lock threw what he said was his worst pass of the game to Parker, who caught the ball at his shoelaces for a 3-yard gain.

The short gain was the first time Parker snagged a pass in four years, back when he picked off a pass as an outside linebacker on the freshman team at Blue Springs High School.

But Parker’s impact on the game was made before his catch in the fourth quarter when he paved the way for two touchdowns on the ground with his blocking.

Parker parted a sea of Florida defenders and gave Larry Rountree III and Damarea Crockett room on each of their touchdowns that bookended Missouri’s 21 straight points in the first half.

The season has been a surprise for Parker, who came to Missouri as a defensive lineman and didn’t expect to play on offense.

“I mean I could have seen myself playing center, maybe, behind [Trystan] Castillo,” Parker said. “But I definitely didn’t see myself playing tight end.”

After Messiah Swinson went down with a torn ACL, defensive line coach Brick Haley called Parker into his office, but Parker didn’t have any idea about the switch.

“At that point, I’m like, ‘Dang are they going to move me to O-line am I gonna get redshirted?’” Parker said. “I didn't know.”

After Haley brought up the idea of switching to tight end, Parker talked to special teams coordinator Andy Hill, Parker’s primary recruiter, and they made the decision to switch. Parker was immediately thrown into the fire.

“The next day I was in at tight end with the 2s and I was like, ‘Oh, what am I doing?’” Parker said.

During the transition, Parker has earned the praise of the coaching staff, especially from tight ends coach Joe Jon Finley, for his effort after the position switch.

“I pulled up multiple clips and showed really everybody on our offense that this is what it looks like to give 100 percent effort, to truly compete on every single play,” Finley said. “I’m not saying he’s a perfect football player, but when it comes to effort he is as close as it comes right now.”

Parker has started to grow into the role, playing as a fullback in a goal-line package early in the season and then playing more at tight end after injuries depleted the rest of the depth chart.

“He’s grown up in understanding what his role is and where he is,” coach Barry Odom said. “From that moment he has jumped in with both feet and done an unbelievable on his role and never questioned it and never asked about it.”

Parker had experience on offense in high school playing as an offensive tackle, where the blocking helped him transition to tight end.

“I had a mentality as an offensive lineman in high school that whoever lined up in front of me, whether it was a three-star, no-star or four-star, I was just going to pancake them,” Parker said. “Here it is the same mentality.”

Parker also showed his athleticism as a basketball player. At 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, Parker played shooting guard at Blue Springs and scored over 1,000 points with multiple 30-point games, excelling in transition and as an outside shooter.

“The biggest thing that helped me transition to tight end would be the sport of basketball,” Parker said. “Just catching and making passes and being able to run up and down the court.”

Parker has grown as a tight end this season, but his role for the next couple of years is undetermined.

“I don’t know,” Odom said. “We may have to put coach Haley and coach Finley in a room — lock the door — and whoever comes out, they’ve got him.”

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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