Parker's pop could force tough choice

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CLEMSON, S.C. --- Clemson's Kyle Parker is a lot more relaxed on the baseball field this spring. And that could mean a crazy, nerve-wracking summer for Tiger football fans.

Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker throws before the Tigers' spring practice. His baseball draft stock is on the rise and that has some football fans worried.  File/Associated Press
File/Associated Press
Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker throws before the Tigers' spring practice. His baseball draft stock is on the rise and that has some football fans worried.

Parker had a standout season in football, the first-year quarterback helping Clemson reach its first Atlantic Coast Conference championship game. He's kept up that run during his third baseball season on campus, leading the Tigers in home runs, batting average, hits and runs scored.

With every big hit, Parker gets a new barrage of questions from Clemson fans worried their starting quarterback might make a run to the big leagues come June's Major League Baseball draft.

"I get asked the question by the fans during (baseball) games," Parker said Monday after football practice. "I really don't know how to answer any more."

If Parker's worried about his athletic future, he hasn't shown it in either sport.

At football practice, Parker shows off his powerful, accurate arm that brought the Tigers the ACC Atlantic Division title. "Good job, KP," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney shouts.

On the diamond, Parker tops the ACC with 10 homers and a .747 slugging percentage with a power stroke that might be moving him up the baseball draftboard in a couple of months. Baseball America 's Aaron Fitt said in an online chat last week that Parker is playing himself into first-round consideration.

"He offers premium power potential in a draft short on bats, and he's obviously a great athlete," Fitt said.

For Parker, it's a return to his freshman baseball form when he was an all-ACC first-team selection with a team-best 14 homers. He figured to improve on that in 2009, but instead was pulled in two different directions.

Parker could not miss any spring football as he battled for the starting QB vacancy with highly regarded Willy Korn. Parker also had to keep his batting stroke up.

So it was up at 5:30 a.m. or so for position meetings and workouts, a full day of class, then going hard at football practice as he learned Swinney's offense and finally, a full nine innings over at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

Parker couldn't handle it. His average fell as did his home run total, although his season improved after Clemson finished spring football practice in mid-April.

"When you look at last spring, there was a whole lot more pressure," he says. "I was expected to be the best player out there (in baseball), then come over here and lead the team. That was asking the lot."

Parker was named the starting quarterback in August and put up a memorable season with freshman school records of 20 touchdowns and 2,526 yards passing. Parker's football future appeared so bright that one-time competitor Korn opted to transfer to Marshall for next season.

That's what has some Clemson football fans so freaked out. Should Parker get a big-time, first-round, high-dollar offer, his Death Valley days could be finished.

Swinney has been confident Parker will be his passer when the Tigers open against North Texas on Sept. 4. These days, Swinney's also putting in a pitch for Parker's NFL potential.

"I think there would have to be a Brinks truck full of money for him to pass up being the starting quarterback at Clemson and walk away from school and baseball," Swinney said. "... And me personally, and I know everybody wants to debate it, but I think it would be a crying shame for him not to play quarterback and give the NFL a shot. I really do," the coach said.

Parker's not ready to choose. He's always seen himself hitting homers and throwing touchdowns.

"I love doing both and I've never really thought about which one I would pick," he said.

He doesn't have to since Clemson fans are worrying about it for him.


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