Planted in a broadcast class at Verrado High School one January afternoon, Jonathon Parks felt his cellphone buzz inside his pocket. Someone during the middle of a school day, oddly enough, was trying to call him.
The number was unrecognizable to the Vipers’ 6-foot-4, 250-pound senior defensive end, but it came from a Tempe area code.
“I should probably take this,” he surmised, slipping out of the classroom and into a motionless hallway.
On the other end of the line, an assistant football coach from Arizona State University (ASU) spoke.
“He basically said I’ve got a preferred walk-on status,” Parks recalled through a persisting grin. “It was wild, man.”
And just like that, Parks netted the collegiate football opportunity for which he so tirelessly worked.
He previously weighed offers from smaller, in-state schools such as Ottawa University and Arizona Christian University – with both offering near full-ride scholarships – and another with Division II powerhouse Colorado State University-Pueblo, but the invite from the Sun Devils was too good to pass up.
As a preferred walk-on player, Parks will be given a roster spot for summer ball, but will not receive a scholarship. This, for several reasons.
For starters, ASU had previously dished out a number of scholarships to other recruits. They simply “don’t have enough (money) to go around for everyone,” as Parks billed it.
Per Division I rules, college football programs can only allocate so many scholarships. Once they run out, any remaining players the university wants as a recruit can receive preferred walk-on status.
Secondly, Parks was a late recruit for the Sun Devils. By the time they offered him a preferred walk-on status, it was January, with high school graduation creeping around the corner.
However, there is an opportunity Parks can eventually receive a scholarship.
“Preferred walk-ons don’t get money until they receive a scholarship, which is when the coach sees you’re performing on the field, you’re getting playing time and he feels you deserve a scholarship at that point,” he said.
“All I have to do is produce and get some time on the field (this summer).”
So, consider ASU’s upcoming summer camp, which begins for Parks on June 16, as one long, dragged out tryout.
As daunting as that may sound, Parks is enamored by it.
“I’m nervous, I’m not even going to lie,” he said. “But I’m just excited to go over there and start learning.”
Before Parks was a football player, a tenacious defensive end who flies off the edge with unrivaled speed, he played soccer, basketball and baseball.
He had played everything, he said, except football.
Football didn’t enter his realm until his freshman year of high school.
“My first sport was soccer, then I got really big and my dad was like, ‘You can keep playing it and hurt some little kids or you can try basketball,’ so I tried basketball, and I succeeded at that,” he said.
“I tried baseball in middle school – loved it. I went to high school and was like, ‘I just want to try something different.’ Football was the one that stuck.”
As you’d expect, football was considerably different than the three sports he grew up playing, but there was a reason is stuck.
“I like hitting people,” he chuckled.
In a Vipers uniform, Parks thrived at, well, hitting people.
In his junior and senior seasons, he totaled 15 sacks and 147 total tackles in 20 games. He was also named Verrado’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2017.
When Arizona State came calling, interested in Parks’ defensive line services, the Verrado senior couldn’t help but to reflect on how “out of the blue” this whole thing was.
Four years ago, he was playing on Verrado’s freshman team as an offensive lineman. He was the biggest kid on the team, he said, so naturally his job was simple: protect the quarterback. A defensive line coach at Verrado quickly spotted Parks – “he took me under his wing,” Parks said – and made him switch over to the defensive line.
Instead of protecting the quarterback, Parks was now on a mission to tackle the quarterback. He liked this.
The following year, Parks cracked the varsity roster as a sophomore – a bit of a rarity at the high school level. His first game of the season, he broke his leg. It was a “pile up,” he recalled, as several opposing offensive linemen tumbled on to a defenseless Parks. He had two hairline fractures in his leg and was sidelined for the rest of his sophomore season.
His junior year, at last, he burst onto the scene with 74 tackles and seven sacks.
Entering his senior campaign, the light bulb finally went off and it began to click. “Hey, I’m a pretty good player,” he thought.
When the first two collegiate offers rolled in, one from Ottawa and one from ACU, a new mindset ensued: Playing college football was no longer a long shot, but something that would inevitably unfold in front of him before he graduated high school.
To get there, though, Parks had a hoop to jump through that loomed rather large during his senior year. He suffered a slightly torn labrum, doctors told him, but that it didn’t appear to be season-ending.
“It was one of those injuries where you play until you can’t play anymore. I had the thought of, ‘Man, I’m injured. Should I keep playing because this is a sport I love or should I stop because it’s a sport I love and I don’t want to hurt my body for the future?’ It was a tough decision, but I think I made the right one,” he said.
Pesky shoulder and all, Parks stayed the course and played through it.
“(I did it) for the love of the game. I played four years of football and I never fell in love with a sport so fast,” he said.
Next will come the everyday grind a college athlete endures each and every day.
Bring it on, says Parks:
“I just want to play football.”