Bryan Gray never has to keep tabs on Austin Parker. Even off the gridiron, the East Hall High quarterback is somewhere doing the work.
Being a leader 24/7 is who Parker is. It’s what makes him tick, Gray said.
Friday night was no exception for the reigning Times Player of the Year Parker, when the Vikings and the Class 6A Habersham Central Raiders interlocked in one of the most high-octane offensive displays for a regular-season opener at East Hall Stadium.
In a game where both squads combined for nearly 1,600 yards of offense, Parker threw for a career-high 457 yards and five touchdowns while completing 63 percent (21 of 33) of his throws, even adding another 51 yards and a score on the ground in a 72-55 loss. He shattered his previous high of 353 yards set against North Hall on Oct. 28.
But Parker’s most impressive feat, Gray said, was his ability to keep a level head throughout this insanity of a game.
“He is a guy that guides our ship,” the coach said. “He’s a player that the kids follow, and when you have a leader like him, it makes coaching real fun.”
For his efforts, Parker is The Times’ Player of the Week.
Parker’s stellar senior campaign debut was, of course, a testament to his work ethic from over the offseason, said Gray.
“He has made extreme efforts to be mentally prepared each game, and he has taken a real active role in grabbing other players and working with them to improve their games,” Gray said. “I think that’s where I see the most standout, is his desire to learn the mental aspects of the game and the desire to help his teammates improve.”
For much of the way, Parker matched Raiders quarterback AJ Curry (9 of 20 passing, 182 yards, three touchdowns) throw for throw in Friday night’s opener. Both teams engaged in a back-and-forth contest riddled with explosive plays that spanned four hours, with the opening quarter taking 45 minutes alone.
The Vikings accrued 641 total yards in the contest. Fellow senior Sedrion Morse hauled in six catches for 200 yards and three scores as Parker’s top target at wide receiver, while junior tailback Cambren Harrison had 134 yards rushing and two scores for East Hall.
Those are the games that make coaches like Gray squirm with angst.
“It’s gut-wrenching because you know the slightest mistake is probably gonna be the difference,” the coach said. “One turnover here or there, or, you know, just a costly penalty is gonna be the difference of these shootouts like this. The fans love it, but I can definitely tell you, coaches are not too high or too excited about it. But it is what it is, you know?”
Yet, Gray applauded both his offense and defense for putting up a valiant effort against a talented and much-improved Raiders squad.
“Our effort was phenomenal playing a 6A school and to see us compete,” Gray added. “I mean, we’re playing against a number of kids that will play in college, and to see our team compete and Austin compete and have some success like they did is a real positive.”
The Vikings (0-1) move on to face another spread attack in Chestatee (1-0), which snapped a 12-game losing streak to rival North Hall last week in a 42-12 win. Seniors Storm Yarbrough (212 passing yards, 3 total touchdowns) and Nick Lyles (106 rushing yards, 3 total touchdowns) made up a big chunk of the War Eagles’ 465 yards of offense. The game will be a 7:30 kickoff Friday at War Eagle Stadium in Gainesville.