There was a time not so long ago when seeing Kevin Parks' name alongside a few national high school records for running backs might've seemed unfathomable.
When Parks started playing football in youth leagues around Salisbury, N.C., the idea of lining up at running back seemed like a dream that would never come to fruition. He was a pudgy, 5-foot-4, 150-pound center with pads too big for his soft frame and muscles too scrawny to make much of an impact.
"I had a whole lot of body fat," Parks said. "I guess you could say I was a big kid. I started working on it a little bit and started trimming some of the weight off, then I started getting those shoulders a little bit and started to look like a running back."
Those days seem like they took place in some kind of parallel universe for Parks, who signed a letter of intent Wednesday to play running back at Virginia. It's amazing what a little maturation and a lot of time in the weight room can do for a kid with huge ambitions.
Parks got his shot to play running back in middle school. His audition went well enough that he opened up his freshman year at West Rowan High in Mount Ulla, N.C., second on the depth chart at tailback. By the second game of his career, he was already starting, and he never gave up the position.
He also never got much bigger — topping out at 5-8 and 195 pounds — but his numbers ballooned into the stuff of legends. He wound up setting national high school records for most carries (1,370) and most games with 100 yards or more (55). He also set a state record with 10,895 yards, which is third all-time in the national high school record book.
"Although he's a very short running back, he isn't a small running back," West Rowan coach Scott Young said. "His vision and his power are what sets him apart. There were a few times when I was concerned about workload, but we did a good job of making sure we didn't overwork him. If we hadn't done such a good job of watching his workload, he probably could've broken those records with ease."
Despite all the big numbers, Parks wasn't a mega-recruit by any stretch. He had offers from U.Va, East Carolina and Illinois, but Parks' slight stature and perceived lack of speed kept many of the heavy hitters from calling for him.
It didn't matter to Parks, who was a Parade Magazine All-American this year. He doesn't see much wrong with 4.5-second speed in the 40-yard dash, especially considering speed isn't really his game in the first place.
"I just try to stay low to the ground and not let anybody get a big hit on me," said Parks, who also starts at point guard on West Rowan's basketball team and averages 15 points per game. "I'm going to run through you because I'm a power back. Most people say I'm not a jet, but there's not many people that can catch me when I'm in the (open) field. I use my speed when I have to, but I'm not going to rely on it."
Last February, he was the first player to commit to U.Va. for this year's recruiting class. He never wavered on his choice, even after former U.Va. coach Al Groh was fired and new coach Mike London was brought in.
"They didn't care about my height, my speed or what any of the critics were saying, like I was too slow to play at any other school," Parks said regarding U.Va. "I feel like you've got to kind of pay them respect for that."
London will add Parks to the mix in a backfield that includes Torrey Mack, Dominique Wallace, Perry Jones, Raynard Horne, Keith Payne and Max Milien. Parks' dimensions don't seem to be a factor in London's thinking when it comes to determining who should get playing time.
"I think I looked at the Pro Bowl," London said. "I saw a lot of 5-9 running backs having a phenomenal day there. Size doesn't matter to me. That's probably one of the things people talked about: his size. He's on a mission — a man on a mission. I'm glad he's on our team so he can prove his mission."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times