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.
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.
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.”