- November 20, 2014
WINDERMERE — Jacob Doss still remembers the day the skinny sixth-grader outran all his varsity players.
It was five years ago, before the Windermere Prep football program had played its first down, and stormy weather one afternoon had forced Doss, the program’s first and only coach to date, to move practice inside for both his fledgling varsity program and the school’s new middle-school program.
Working out of the gym, Doss had both teams run suicides, a popular drill combining speed and endurance, and had the winners from each team run against one another.
When a scrawny sixth-grader beat his fastest runners on varsity, Doss wasn’t sure whether to be angry that his runners had been beaten or excited that he had a youngster with such promise.
That is one of the first memories Doss has of Parker Davis, his star junior quarterback, who just this past season helped lead the Lakers to an undefeated record and Sunshine State Athletic Conference championship.
“I didn’t think that was a good thing that our varsity kids were losing to a sixth-grader,” Doss recalled. “But then, I’m kind of feeling like maybe I’m asking my varsity kids to beat one of the quickest kids around. You could tell right then that he was going to be special.”
Davis, who is fielding interest from a number of Division I programs on the gridiron, celebrated with his teammates after the Lakers secured the program’s first SSAC title back on Nov. 15; but the next morning, he was right back at work.
The talented junior is also the starting point guard for Windermere Prep’s basketball team — a program ranked No. 8 in the state in Class 3A — and with his natural ability to score, he is also fielding interest from several well-known Division I basketball schools.
In a day and age in which gifted athletes are specializing in one sport earlier and earlier, Davis is a throwback to a different era. Davis could choose to specialize in either sport, and it has been suggested, but to the Winter Garden native, that would entail ending his career in one of his great passions — and that isn’t an option.
“People have thrown (specializing) out there, but I just like those sports too much that I wouldn’t be able to give one up,” Davis said.
Now, with more than a month still left in the current basketball season, coaches from high-profile programs in both sports knocking on the door and a chance to repeat as SSAC champions on the football field in the fall, Davis is ready to embrace 2015 for what it very well may be — the biggest year of his young life
THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT
The freedom of playing multiple sports is one of the main reasons Parker is a Laker in the first place.
“One of the reasons we came here (to Windermere Prep) was the opportunity to play two sports or more,” Parker’s father, Charles Davis, said. “At one point, he was running track (in addition to basketball and football); and his first letter here at Windermere Prep was in tennis.”
Parker, who also considered attending Lakeview Middle School, for which he was zoned, and Lake Highland Prep, in Orlando, said he knew he wanted to be somewhere where he would be able to play basketball and football. So, Parker enrolled in Windermere Prep as a sixth grader, along with his older sister, Taylor, who had previously been at West Orange and is currently at the University of Florida studying telecommunications.
It ended up being a great decision for Parker, especially with the success he has enjoyed as an athlete.
As opposed to other settings, in which Parker’s talents might make him more of a “big man on campus” cliche, the atmosphere on campus at Windermere Prep allows for him to mostly be just another student during the school day.
“It’s a little bit different here,” Parker said. “Some people in school are just (focused on being) students. I wouldn’t say they don’t care about sports, but it’s just not as big of a deal.”
Indeed, Charles, a former NFL player and current college football analyst for Fox Sports, said he admired that the school values a championship in football only as much as the academic achievements of its other students.
“The beauty of this place is … the atmosphere here reminds me of Stanford,” said Charles, who was previously an assistant athletic director at Stanford University in California. “Is it important to be good at athletics? Yes, it is. But you have kids, at the same time, who are winning robotics competitions — they’re going across the world to compete in other things.”
THE RIGHT COACH
Parker wasn’t tabbed as a quarterback right away when he started playing football. At first, he played wide receiver and defensive back for the school’s middle-school team. When the team’s quarterback moved up to the varsity level, though, middle-school coaches decided to take their best pure athlete — Parker — and see what happened when he started taking snaps.
Although his skills were raw at first, having Doss available as a mentor proved to be a blessing. Doss was a quarterback and played Division I football for the University of Wyoming.
“I really like that, seeing that he went to Wyoming and was the quarterback in some big games,” Parker said. “He tells me about it sometimes.”
Doss recognized Parker’s eagerness to improve years ago, when, as a seventh-grader, he sought out extra coaching.
“This kid was in middle school and wanting to come work on his quarterbacking game,” Doss recalled. “That, right there, told me that he wanted to be a quarterback and that he was going to be good. His footwork was better than all of (the varsity quarterbacks) when he was in seventh and eighth grade.”
Since then, working so closely with Doss as his head coach and quarterback coach has allowed Parker to have a keen mastering of the Lakers’ offense and understanding of his role.
“It’s been really helpful with him being the head coach; that’s helped me a lot because we’re on the same page, and he knows what I need to do to help this team,” Parker said.
GROWING INTO A STAR
Despite his natural speed, Parker — named Windermere Prep’s starter at quarterback as a freshman — didn’t run much his first two years under center.
Recognizing he wasn’t taking advantage of one of his greatest strengths, Parker went to work on bulking up during the offseason before this past season, so he would be durable enough to run the ball more.
“He spent the entire offseason in the weight room and, all of a sudden, he goes from being a skinny little fella to one of the strong guys on our team with his legs,” Doss said. “He was asking me this summer if he could get in on the hitting drills. He’s like, ‘Coach, I need to get used to being hit because I’m going to run the ball this year.’”
Parker, who runs a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, not only improved his athleticism but also his mastery of the position — something that became apparent over the summer.
“It really clicked for him this summer in 7-on-7; we didn’t lose a 7-on-7 game all summer,” Doss said. “He was putting on clinics all summer.”
Along with those improvements came another change in the signal-caller’s demeanor — Parker became a leader on the team.
Isaiah Curry, a senior wide receiver who played football for the Lakers for the first time this past fall, has played basketball with Parker for four years. Seeing his teammate and friend in his element on the football field, though, was a new experience.
“With football, it was different. Out here (playing basketball), he’s not really that talkative,” Curry said. “With football, he talks a lot — even in the locker room, I feel like he felt more relaxed.”
The change in Parker’s demeanor and confidence wasn’t noticed only by teammates. As his father, Charles said he enjoyed watching Parker’s growth this past season as a leader within the program.
“He’s always been ‘the kid’ — he’s had good mentors around him,” Charles said. “The growth of going from being ‘the kid’ and just playing to being someone who should have some leadership responsibilities and roles — that’s been fun to watch him grow into that.”
The growth Parker experienced entering his junior season was timely — thanks to some talented newcomers, the roster around him on offense was better than ever.
Parker was surrounded by senior running back Chris Granjean, standout receivers Michael Stones and Curry (both new additions from the basketball team) and tight end Kevin Babich.
“My role was to get them the ball in any way possible,” Parker said.
Add in Granjean’s breakout rushing season to the Lakers’ suddenly loaded receiving corps, and Windermere Prep suddenly had one of the area’s most prolific offenses.
“This was our first year of having just really good wide receivers,” Doss said.
The result was remarkable.
The Lakers finished 10-0 and had no close games. For his part, Parker performed his main role of distributing the ball to the team’s talented playmakers while also following through on his plan to use his legs to make plays more often.
The two roles often intersected, as Parker’s ability to elude pass rushers often gave receivers extra time.
“He runs a 4.5, so, I mean, he’s really fast; he’s a great scrambler,” said Stones, who is committed to Dartmouth for basketball. “I had three or four touchdowns this season off of him scrambling, me making a play and then him throwing it.”
Two days after the Lakers won the SSAC championship at Pennington Field in Oviedo, Parker, along with a few other teammates like Curry and Stones, was back at it — on the basketball court.
The Winter Garden native, who said he has played basketball since he could walk, admitted that, even with a championship game looming for football, he was eager to get back onto the hardwood in the final weeks of the fall season.
“You know you have a job to finish,” Parker said. “That’s where I tried to keep my mind, on ‘just finish this (football) and then start worrying about basketball.’”
Although an adjustment period could be expected for any athlete switching between sports so suddenly, Windermere Prep basketball coach Ben Wilson said that was not the case.
“He doesn’t really have any kind of setback or dip because, if you follow Parker, he trains for football and basketball year-round,” Wilson said. “When he’s in football season, he still finds time to work on his basketball game, and vice-versa. It takes him a day or so to get his feet under him.”
If that transition seems chaotic, Parker’s summer schedule — one that often involves balancing 7-on-7 passing leagues for football, AAU basketball and strength training for both — has it trumped.
“That’s just a way of life, and he’s used to it, and I think he gets a little antsy if he’s not really busy,” Parker’s mother, Lisa Davis, said.
ROAD TO LAKELAND
Crazy as it sounds, Parker’s summer schedule is far from his main focus right now.
Currently, Parker and his basketball teammates are locked in on finding their stride. Windermere Prep is 9-7 at the time of publication, in the midst in one of the toughest schedules in the area.
“Our biggest issue is ourselves,” Wilson said. “If we can get over ourselves and really buy into each other, then I really don’t care who we play.”
Of course, the play of Parker will be an important part of that equation. A natural scorer, Windermere Prep is looking to the junior to grow as a distributor on the hardwood — much like he is on the gridiron.
“He’s come a long way with that (distributing the ball),” Wilson said. “But, at the same time, since we’ve had him in sixth grade, he’s always been a phenomenal scorer. So we don’t want him to get away from what’s kind of helped our program and helped him make a name for himself.”
Even now, Parker is playing through a shoulder injury suffered during football. If one might think that such setbacks would mean Wilson isn’t a fan of Parker’s other sport choice, one would be wrong.
“I’m there every home game (for football). For one, kind of making sure he doesn’t get hurt,” Wilson joked. “Growing up, I only played basketball. But, looking back, I told Parker, ‘Look, man, I’ve always wished I could go back and play three sports.’ I respect him for choosing to do both.”
Windermere Prep’s football team will be short 12 graduating seniors when it takes the field for the spring season.
It means that if the Lakers hope to approach last season’s absurd success — and scoring output — new faces will need to step up.
“Replacing Chris (Granjean) — I think that is going to be the biggest problem with us,” Parker said. “But I know we have some guys that will be able to step up and carry the load. We’ll be alright — every year someone steps up. You just don’t know who it is yet.”
With those departures, Doss is pretty open about what he will expect of his rising senior quarterback.
“(Parker is) the glue,” Doss said. “I’m going to ask him to come out of his shell even more. We’re going to put more on him; it’s just as simple as that.”
The spring will be important for Parker in more ways than one, though. The quarterback has had interest from football programs, including Missouri and Kentucky, and has taken a visit for football to Arizona. There are no offers as of yet, though, and Doss said college coaches likely are waiting to see how he performs in the spring.
In basketball, Parker said he has interest from Division I programs, including West Virginia and Iowa. Still, much like in football, he has not received an official offer, though he is optimistic one is on its way. The senior-to-be said he had no idea which sport he would play if given offers for both, but he has an idea for his major.
“I take a film class — that’s something I like to do,” Parker said.
Parker’s parents think their son might be onto something with his interest in film.
“I feel like he’s got a nice artistic eye and a technical eye,” Lisa said. “I think it’s a great fit for him.”
And as for being patient waiting for that first offer, Charles — who knows a thing or two about college sports — said he was optimistic about his son’s prospects.
“Bottom line is, you just need one (offer),” he said.