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AMES — The story of how a kid born and raised in upstate New York played high school football in South Carolina before attending Georgia and Northeastern Oklahoma A&M is one that gives someone perspective.
Those stops have all made Iowa State backup quarterback Jacob Park who he is. Life for the sophomore has been a little like how quarterbacks are told to carry themselves on the field.
“Regardless if the play before was good or bad, it’s all about the next play,” Park said. “That’s the one thing I come in with now that I didn’t have when I was younger is to put whatever happened in the past behind you and move on. Good or bad, you’ve got to move on.”
Park was locked in a quarterback competition for backup with true freshmen Zeb Noland before the latter suffered a season-ending knee injury. Now as the sole No. 2 quarterback behind junior Joel Lanning, Park has slowly been reintegrating himself to life in a Power Five football program.
The 6-foot-4 and 205-pound quarterback was a four-star recruit out of high school and had a host of offers from SEC schools like Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee, but ultimately ended up at Georgia. He enrolled early, but left the program after a freshman season in which he redshirted.
A one-year stop at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, where he didn’t play football, gives Park three years of eligibility at Iowa State and some perspective on where his journey has taken him. Ames, he said, has been the fit he needed to be his most productive.
“A football player in college football should really live like you live here,” Park said. “A slow-paced lifestyle, not a lot of distractions. When I was at Georgia it’s a lot faster pace, you can really do anything you want outside of school, there’s a lot of stuff going on, a lot of distractions.
“Some people don’t see it as distractions and I didn’t when I first started college, but I do now and I’m a lot more focused. I think Ames helps me stay a little more focused with not too much extracurricular activity.”
Park was also part of the ESPN Elite 11, South Carolina’s Mr. Football in 2013 and threw for 2,239 yards and 24 touchdowns as a high-school senior. He said he’s only had to knock the rust off in terms of making some reads and recognizing coverages, but his physical attributes have remained sharp.
Some of Park’s ability, not unlike Lanning’s, surface outside of the pocket.
“I think the one thing I can do is outside the pocket I keep my eyes downfield and I can make some throws on the run,” Park said. “I’m not saying Joel can’t make them, but that’s what I look to do (and) he tends to look to run the ball. That’s just how it is.”
Park was set back marginally because he did not go through spring practices and missed the first few days of fall camp with an illness, but the assimilation into his role has been as smooth as quarterbacks coach Jim Hofher could have wanted.
“If you’re a starter you’ve certainly got to be ready and if you’re a backup, especially if you’re a second-team backup, you’re one play away,” Hofher said. “It’s always been that in all sports, but certainly in football because of its physical nature. You’ve got to be ready and these guys have worked really hard.”
Park, like any backup, is hoping his acceleration ends in him enjoying the same type of success he had as a prep player.
“(I just have to) do the same thing I’m doing now,” Park said. “Just keep getting better everyday and competing, go out there and do my jobs and the chips fall where they land.”
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