Freshman on guard for UC Davis

Pat Harlow was not surprised to hear that Jake Parks rarely removes his helmet during football practice at UC Davis. That Parks is starting at right guard as a true freshman was hardly breaking news. Harlow predicted as much last fall when he coached Parks at JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano.

Freshman Jake Parks

Parks will be in a much colder climate than San Juan Capistrano on Saturday when the Aggies travel to face Eastern Washington in the FCS quarterfinals. Roos Field in Cheney should be as chilly as it was on Nov. 10, when the Aggies could not handle the 30-degree temperature or the Eagles in a 59-20 loss. UC Davis will be seeking revenge and its first victory in eight tries against Eastern Washington with its season on the line.

Keeping his helmet on his head might be a good idea for Parks to avoid losing body heat. Then again, he does not take off his helmet all that often. Most of his teammates take advantage of any break during practice to remove their helmets or prop them on top of their heads. Parks does not remove his because doing so at JSerra was prohibited by Harlow, who required his players “to be strapped up all the time.”

“That’s hard to get through to some kids,” Harlow said, “but not Jake.  That’s just the kind of kid he is.”

If it takes one to know one, Harlow is the perfect person to ask about a talented offensive lineman. Harlow switched from defense to offense at USC and started at tackle for two seasons. He was selected by the New England Patriots in the first round of the 1991 draft and spent eight seasons in the NFL, including the last three with the Oakland Raiders. The 2018 season was his second at JSerra.

Pat Harlow

Having a former NFL lineman to show him the ropes has certainly paid dividends for Parks, but Harlow refuses to take any credit. It is not as if Harlow went out of his way to push Parks more than any other player at JSerra. Parks did not need anyone to push him because he “has a really high work ethic. He doesn’t miss an opportunity to work,” Harlow said. “After he committed to Davis, he put in the work in the offseason. And he did it with a purpose.”

That purpose was to ensure he would be ready to battle for a starting job with the Aggies. Harlow and his assistants told Parks last year that they all expected him to start in his first season at UC Davis. Parks must have believed them. Once such an opportunity came his way at UC Davis, he stepped forward and has yet to retreat a single step.

“If anyone tells you that a freshman is going to play 900 snaps, they’re full of it,” said Tim Keane, who coaches the offensive line at UC Davis. “Jake made the decision that he wanted to come here and put himself in an opportunity to start. When the door opened up and there was an opportunity, he took it and has never looked back. He’s holding his own. The moment has never been too big for him.”

Any coach would love a player who eats, drinks and sleeps football. As much as Keane appreciates Parks being an eager beaver, he hopes Parks will eventually make and take the time to get away from the game.

“He’s a guy who will send me text messages and ask him to send him a cut up of some NFL film for him to watch,” Keane said. “When he has an hour of free time, he wants to watch film. That’s just who he is. I want to tell him to go play Fortnite or something.”

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Young line works fine for UC Davis

Coach Tim Keane huddles with his offensive linemen during Saturday’s FCS playoff game against Northern Iowa. UC Davis won 23-16 to advance to the quarterfinals.

Tim Keane has been on his planet long enough to know quite a few folks. What the UC Davis offensive line coach does not know is why several of them decided to send him a text message  on Nov. 20. The messages were eerily similar in that each made reference to the 13 football coaches in the Big Sky Conference and how those men made their the all-conference selections.

UC Davis was well represented with quarterback Jake Maier being named the Offensive Player of the Year  and wide receiver Keelan Doss being the selected to the first team for the second time. Linebacker Mason Moe, defensive back Vincent White and tight end Wes Preece were second-team selections. Defensive back Isiah Olave, wide receiver Jared Harrell and running back Ulonzo Gilliam were named to the third team. Running back Tehran Thomas, return specialist Namane Modise and punter Dan Whelan earned honorable mention.

A school-record 11 honorees for the Aggies makes it easy to under why Keane was bombarded with messages after the All-Big Sky selections were revealed.  Congratulations were in order for second-year head coach Dan Hawkins and each member of his staff. The messages that Keane received were more snippy than congratulatory, however.

Freshman Jake Parks provides protection for quarterback Jake Maier against Northern Iowa.

Keane was not all bothered that one of his offensive linemen was not honored, but it sure seemed like quite a few of friends were. After all, Maier was sacked just five times in eight Big Sky games. That matched Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for the fewest sacks allowed in the conference even though UC Davis had 246 more passing attempts.

“Maybe it’s just that our offensive line is so good,” Keane said, “that none of them stand out.”

UC Davis shared the Big Sky championship with Eastern Washington and Weber State. Eastern Washington had all five of its starting offensive linemen honored, and Weber State had three. UC Davis did not get as much a pat on the back for an offensive or defensive lineman. Others can be upset about that, but Keane put it in perspective after the text tsunami.

“It was surprised by how many text messages I got. It kind of caught me off guard,” Keane said. “My response is that in the last two years we’ve had the Offensive Player of the Year in the conference. What better compliment for an offensive line than two years in a row having the top offensive player in the conference (Doss won in 2017). It all starts with those five guys.”

Credit will come in time for sophomores Colton Lamson and Kooper Richardson, redshirt freshman Connor Petek and true freshman Jake Parks. Nine of the 11 offensive starters for UC Davis in Saturday’s 23-16 victory over Northern Iowa will return in 2019. Doss and left guard Ramsey Hufford will depart as seniors. A 10-2 record in 2018 might be just the beginning of winning for the Aggies, who will travel to face Eastern Washington in the FCS quarterfinals.

Keane was an offensive lineman at UC Davis from 2003 to 2006 and started at center in his last two seasons. He can speak from experience in acknowledging that obscurity comes with the job description of a lineman. Keane prefers it that way. So do his linemen, especially since Keane said none of them has raised an eyebrow over the all-conference selections.

 “Those guys are blue collar,” Keane said. “They live in the shadows. They don’t want any credit.”

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