When the 2014 football season ended, East Hall turned to two faces who had the chance to lead the team in the upcoming season: one an upcoming junior, the other a rising sophomore.
At the start of the season, it was clear which one would be taking the snaps as coach Bryan Gray turned to sophomore Austin Parker to play quarterback.
Parker didn’t disappoint.
The fresh face under center threw for 2,267 yards and 22 touchdowns, completing nearly 64 percent of his passes in 2015.
On top of that, Parker covered 212 yards on the ground, scoring one time.
His age, his inexperience, wasn’t an issue. It wasn’t even evident. When the Vikings started the season 0-3, the quarterback never blinked.
When they won the next game by 34, Parker didn’t get too excited. Then, East Hall dropped a seven-point decision to eventual region champion Dawson County.
Parker didn’t waiver. He just led his team to five consecutive victories and helped East Hall to the No. 2 spot in the region, making it the host of a playoff game for the first time in over 15 years.
“He’s just got a real interconfidence about himself,” Gray said. “It’s not arrogance. He works extremely hard mentally and physically to get that confidence. He doesn’t get rattled. It’s amazing.
“He’s got a real knowledge of football,” Gray continued. “I think that contributes to that confidence, that understanding. He knows how to keep himself out of situations he’s not comfortable in. I think that’s a real key to his success.”
For many players, especially the seniors, it can be hard to put trust in a younger guy, a guy with no varsity experience.
Senior center Tommie Peebles said that was a non-issue for the Vikings. They were trusting from the start.
“I think we realized it as soon as the summer started,” Peebles said. “Austin always pushed us and made everybody better. He doesn’t talk that much, but he leads by example.”
Gray said the team began taking to Parker quickly.
The young quarterback, according to the coach, helped Markese Jackson, Parker’s competition for the QB spot, during spring ball to make sure he knew the plays and didn’t have any question as to what was going on.
“Once we got to the point we were both battling for it, I made sure everybody knew what they were supposed to do because I wanted us to be the best we could be as a team,” Parker said.
It’s that team mentality that Gray said makes his signal caller so good and helped earn his teammates’ trust.
“This day and age with all the ‘show me,’ ‘I’m all that’ culture we’ve got about (being flashy), he’s the throwback kid,” Gray said. “He shows up early and stays late. He works and lets his actions speak. All these people, especially on Sundays, forget this is a team game. He loves letting his team work. He does it the way it should be done.”
Parker said that mentality comes from his parents.
“At a young age, my parents taught me it was about more than one person,” Parker said. “We had 60-plus people on the team and without everybody down, from senior to freshmen, we couldn’t have done what we did this year. People think that Markese was our best player or Jacquen (Hopkins) was the best or whatever, but without the other guys, we aren’t able to do anything. We don’t play one-on-one. We play 11-on-11, team versus team.”
Peebles said his quarterback is “one of a kind.”
Where most young players may want to have their friends talking them up and talking about how good they are, Parker is the exact opposite.
Peebles said people around school call Parker the “GOAT,” which stands for “Greatest Of All Time,” but the QB hates it.
Parker said he doesn’t feel he’s done enough to be called “the greatest” anything.
“He doesn’t want people thinking of him as more than just a regular football player,” Peebles said. “He’s just a quiet kid. He doesn’t say much. He always has the same look on his face whether he throws a 60-yard touchdown or a 60-yard pick-six. He’s very humble.”
“That’s just me being me,” Parker said.