CEDAR RAPIDS — Cade Parker reminds Cedar Rapids Kennedy coach Brian White of a bygone era of football.
White described the Cougars’ junior linebacker as an “old school” player, invoking images of the high school version of past warriors like Ray Nitschke, Dick Butkus and Jack Lambert. The claim may be hyperbole, but there is no questioning Parker’s toughness and relentless on the field.
“The kid is going to play with a broken leg or bleeding out of every spot on his body,” White said. “He’s just tough. He would play through anything. You would literally have to drag him off the field.
“That’s why I think he’s a throwback. He’s not a Ferrari. He’s a Mac truck and he’s going to run forever.”
Parker cemented his place as a pillar at the center of the Kennedy defense, tallying 104 total tackles and ranking among the state’s best in stops as a sophomore. He has picked up where he left off a year ago, helping the Cougars to a 2-1 start before hosting Class 4A 10th-ranked Cedar Rapids Prairie on Thursday night at Kingston Stadium.
The 5-foot-11, 215-pound all-stater has recorded 31 total tackles through the first three games, which is good for third in 4A. He has focused on getting better by correcting mistakes from last season.
“Sophomore year, I was kind of along for the ride and kicking everything in,” Parker said. “Now, I feel like I’m in the front seat, controlling the wheel. I really feel like I’m improving more as a player. I’m tweaking all the little things I did wrong,”
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The Kennedy defense relies on strong linebacker play. Parker is in the center of that unit, including Jay Oostendorp and Sham Graham. As the middle linebacker, his responsibility is to track down the ball and he wouldn’t want it any other way, making contact and battling each down.
“I really enjoy it,” Parker said. “I like the big hits and everything. It’s fun to me. Being the focus of the defense is a big burden to hold but I like it.”
Parker captured White’s attention as an eighth grader. Interestingly, the biggest impression wasn’t made during the few junior high football games he watched. White saw Parker’s tenacity as a wrestler and his willingness to help his teammates, calling him a natural leader. He also saw Parker and teammate Cairron Hendred show off their speed in the all-city track meet.
White was confident the Cougars had their future “Mike” backer.
“We knew he was a special talent,” said White, who moved him up to the sophomore team as a freshman. “We knew what we had and he was going to be a three-year starter for us. He’s turned out even better than we thought he would be at this point.”
Parker had 13 1/2 tackles in Kennedy’s 34-0 victory over Cedar Rapids Jefferson in Week 1. He also had 13 tackles in last week’s loss to top-ranked West Des Moines Valley.
“He gets there (to the ball) and he gets there fast,” White said. “He’s a sideline-to-sideline guy.”
White added, “He understands how the whole thing works, which helps him understand his job that much more. He can help get guys lined up and slide our (defensive) line. He can direct others. He’s like having a quarterback on defense.”
Parker is a legacy player of sorts. His father, Jamey Parker, played for the Cougars in the early 1990s and was an all-Iowa Conference offensive lineman for Wartburg in 1993 and 1994.
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The pair share a love of football and the opportunity to represent Kennedy. The younger Parker is impressed, walking through the Kennedy halls and seeing his dad’s photo on display. It serves as a source of motivation and good-natured smack talk.
“I talk about how my dad was just a big slow lineman, but he was stronger than all get out and could push around a lot of weight back in the day,” Parker said. “It’s always a running joke about who is better.”
Parker’s performances, which include a career-high 17 tackles in a game against Dubuque Hempstead last year, have stoked interest from college programs, including Iowa State, Iowa and South Dakota State. He attended college football camps in the offseason as well, attempting to reach his goal of playing at the next level.
“I’m keeping my mind open still,” Parker said. “I just want to play football in college overall.”
Parker was voted captain by his teammates. He has earned their respect with his leadership. White praised him for being as good of a person off the field as he is a hard-nosed defender on it.
“He’s a really nice kid, too,” White said. “He is friends with everybody. He gets along with all of his teachers. He is willing to help anybody. He’s not an athlete that thinks life revolves around him.
“He’s just a great kid and I can’t say enough about him. I really hope after high school he gets the opportunity to do big things and I’m sure he probably will.”
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