There was a time when Bailey Parker did not like passing the football.
Well, that may be the wrong way to put it, but he definitely didn’t see it as his strong suit.
As an 8th grader about to head into high school, the East Noble senior saw himself as “not really a throwing quarterback” and instead a signal caller who was quick to take off and run.
Of course, not many youngsters are fully comfortable in the pocket, but as time progresses, the game slows down and the confidence grows.
“I think maturing was a bit part of it,” said Parker about his growth at QB. “I just tried so hard to get ready for that freshman season.”
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Parker shined at the freshman level for East Noble, finding his niche as a player who could find the weak spot in a defense and exploit it vertically, while also being able to move when things fell apart in the pocket. It was the type of play that carried him through a senior season in which he amassed 4,473 total yards and 57 touchdowns as a dual-threat quarterback, while also adding five interceptions and five forced fumbles on defense.
In three years, Parker went from an uncertain freshman to a confident, record-breaking two-way stud. For that, he is the easy pick to be the 2019 Outside the Huddle Prep Football Player of the Year.
Parker doesn’t fit a particular mold for a quarterback. A pure Aaron Rodgers-type pocket passer he is not, nor is he a Lamar Jackson type who makes nearly all of his plays out of the pocket. Instead, the senior has almost created his own mold for who he is.
“He isn’t a prototypical pocket passer,” East Noble coach Luke Amstutz said. “His strength isn’t reading coverages and going through progressions. His strength as a passer is understanding his best matchup and finding space and he throws a very catchable, pure ball.”
East Noble used that skill set with Parker to cater an offense to his strengths. It allowed him to put him and the offense in positions to succeed. While having a wealth of talent around him surely didn’t hurt, it was Parker’s ability to improvise and do the unexpected (and some would think impossible) that gave defenses fits.
After a solid junior season that saw him start at the varsity level at quarterback for the first time, Parker’s senior year began with a trip to Plymouth. The offseason saw Amstutz and others raving about Parker and how big he was going to be for the Knights. Some still doubted, but one play set the tone.
“It was the second half of the Plymouth game and he took over as a runner,” Amstutz said. “I knew he could pass. I knew we could get the ball to all those wide receivers, but he turned into a physical runner in that game, and it set a tone for what we were going to be the rest of the year.
“We throw a lot, but we ‘spread to run’ and when your quarterback can be your physical runner it makes it very tough to defend.”
Parker never finished with less than 155 yards of total offense in any single game this season. He put up 393 against Plymouth, 323 against Mishawaka and 369 in the semistate triumph over Hobart.
Only against Evansville Central in the state title game was he slowed down, with Parker taking a beating throughout that game.
“I was so sore the day after I could barely get out of bed,” Parker said.
But perhaps the greatest attribute of Parker was seen in the immediate aftermath of that 21-3 loss in Indianapolis. As Evansville Central celebrated, Parker was named the mental attitude award winner for Class 4A. As he stood there maturely answering questions flanked by his parents, questions that didn’t seem to matter so soon after a loss, Parker held it together and handled the situation with poise.
“It was really conflicting,” Parker said. “When they told me I got it, I didn’t know how to feel at the time. We had just lost, but I knew in the long run the award was very important, so I kept my composure.”
East Noble has had a run of strong quarterbacks, but Parker will indelibly stand out. With him at the helm, the Knights took a step forward as a program and a 4A power.
What’s next? Parker as a preferred walk-on offer from Ball State on the table, with other MAC programs interested. His future at the college level is likely on defense, meaning the games of putting up gaudy offensive numbers are likely over.
But memories will remain, not just for Parker but the entire city of Kendallville that rallied behind a team led by its senior leader wearing No. 1.
“I want our fans to think about not just me but all of us and how much fun it was to go and achieve what we did as a team,” Parker said. “It was a great time going to Indianapolis and I know it brought back a lot of memories for people.”
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