COLUMBIA, Mo. – There appeared to be only one way forward for Daniel Parker Jr. when he signed with Missouri on Dec. 20.
Parker was a standout lineman on both sides of the ball at Blue Springs High School and was the best in-state prospect the Tigers signed in its 2018 class.
When defensive line coach Brick Haley was asked whether Parker would play offense or defense with the Tigers on Parker’s signing day, Haley was crystal clear.
“Who recruited him?” Haley asked. He did.
“You gotta have dibs on your own,” he continued. “Sad dog that don’t wag it’s own tail.”
Parker’s first season has already involved a switch. Blessed with an abundance of depth on the defensive line, Missouri has asked Parker, who is 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, to use his skills as a tight end in the beginning stages of 2018.
Parker has even switched his number after starting fall camp with No. 52. He wasn’t happy with the second number Missouri gave him, No. 96.
He took the matter to coach Barry Odom, who was initially unsympathetic.
“When I came here, I was No. 42 in high school,” Odom said Tuesday. “That’s what I wanted when I came here. I went in and they gave me No. 39, threw it to me, and I asked, ‘Do I have a vote on this?’ The guy looked at me and said no, with a few other choice words, so I became 39.
“Daniel came up to me the other day and said, ‘Coach, I really don’t like 96,’” Odom went on. “My response was about the same thing, but then also, the mature side of me said, ‘What number do you want?’ He said, ‘Well, what’s available?’ We went through the numbers that might be available here for a couple weeks, and that’s how he ended up on the number he is now.”
Parker is now No. 86, which was wide receiver Harry Ballard III’s number during spring practice. Ballard, a transfer from Jones County Community College, is enrolled at MU but hasn’t participated in any practices since the spring. It’s unclear if he will return this season.
Odom said the number change isn’t a guarantee Parker will stay on the offensive side throughout the season, but tight end will be Parker’s home for the near future.
“For the next couple weeks, he’s going to be right where he is,” Odom said. “He’s provided a spark on being able to block at the point of attack on that spot. With the depth the way it is on the other side of the ball, I think he helps us quicker at the tight end spot.”
In the eyes of one scout, Parker’s move makes sense.
Danny Heitert of STC Grid Reports evaluates high school prospects for college programs annually and has historically provided reports on the Tigers’ prospects for public consumption.
In Parker, Heitert saw a skilled defensive end but a uniquely skilled offensive lineman. At Blue Springs he played mainly on offense until his senior season, when he had a 22 tackles for loss and 17 sacks while being named the Missouri High School Football Coaches Association's Class 6 Defensive Player of the Year and leading the Wildcats into the state championship game.
“His skill set as a blocker is probably more rare than his defensive end skills,” Heitert said in December after evaluating Parker’s high school tape. “... Missouri’s practice has always been to let a player try to play what they wish, but they will ultimately decide who plays where. Parker’s (skills) as an offensive lineman are rare. To me, value of a player is how rare is his skill set at that position.”
That’s been the case for Parker, who has a chance to get on the field sooner as a result of the move.
In the end, his switch in positions went smoother than the switch in jersey numbers.
“Credit to him – he has come in from the first day he stepped on campus in June and he’s just worked,” Odom said. “He’s poured himself into it. He’s listened.
“He’s accepted coaching, and when we talked to him about moving over and helping us on that side of the ball, he said, ‘Coach, I’ll do whatever I can to help this team.’ That’s pretty awesome. That’s what you want, right? I’m happy for him and I think he’s got a role to help us out.”