Don’t tell coach David Cutcliffe or anyone else at Duke University, but Austin Parker “kinda pulled for Carolina” as a kid.
Now that the Mount Pleasant High School’s senior kicker and quarterback has verbally committed to play football for the Blue Devils, however, he’s a true (royal) blue fan.
Visiting the Duke campus was “awesome,” Parker said; “the greatest experience ever.”
He considered a handful of schools, but at Duke, “everything felt right.”
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Parker’s journey to Division I college athletics began when he was 9 years old and his best friend begged him to switch from rec-league soccer to football. The team needed a quarterback, which Austin said came naturally to him.
Kicking came naturally, too. Daren Parker, Austin’s father, remembers a soccer game in which 7-year-old Austin hooked a corner kick into the net for a goal. Even as a 5-year-old he would kick balls off the back deck of the house and in the backyard, his mother, Stephanie, said.
Parker’s athleticism, and his interest in kicking, may be inherited. Stephanie and Daren Parker met at the University of South Carolina, where Daren was on the football team and Stephanie played volleyball. He was later a punter for the Denver Broncos.
Stephanie said she and Daren were prepared to have children with interests outside sports, but all three of their sons are athletes.
“We’re competitive in everything,” she joked: table tennis, throwing darts, even when the boys play cards with their grandfather.
Parker’s “just a natural athlete,” said Mount Pleasant High coach Michael Johns.
Learning to kick a football began in earnest at age 10, the backyard swing set was Parker’s goalpost, and he took help from his father and other coaches.
As he got older, Parker spent hours at Mount Pleasant Middle School kicking field goals. Even now, Johns said, he’ll find Parker in his free time out on the field practicing, his younger brothers shagging balls.
The hours of practice, games and hard work in clinics and camps have paid off with the opportunity to play at Duke. Parker said he’ll be a kicker at Duke, though he said Cutcliffe joked that it’s nice knowing he’s got a kicker with quarterback experience – just in case.
But before he heads to Duke, Parker’s looking forward to his senior year of football at Mount Pleasant.
“It’s more fun than last year,” he said. “Everything’s going great,” owing to what he called a tight-knit group of senior leaders who make everything go smoothly.
Johns called Parker even-keeled, and Daren Parker said his son is a quiet leader.
Academically, Austin ranks in the top 10 percent of his class and is planning to study engineering at Duke.
He’s accomplished a lot, but both his parents say they are proudest of the good decisions Parker’s made, including the one to become a Blue Devil.