You could say a flip switched, or a light turned on, really whatever metaphor works for you, but something happened with Brandon Parker after his junior season at North Carolina A&T.
The Aggies were coming off a 9-3 campaign in which they earned an FCS Playoff berth, and whether it was added motivation coming off a disappointing first-round loss to the Richmond Spiders, or something else entirely, following the conclusion of Parker’s third season in Greensboro, something just seemed to click for the powerful offensive lineman.
“You could see he had something special going,” said current Aggies Head Coach Sam Washington. “And watching the transformation, it had taken root after his junior year.”
Washington – who served as Defensive Coordinator for much of Parker’s career at North Carolina A&T – said sometimes that light never comes on for players, but thankfully for Parker, and the Raiders too for that matter, something did indeed illuminate for the Kannapolis, N.C., native.
“He increased his bench, he increased his power cleans, he just increased in every area, and you knew then,” Washington said. “We were just happy to see the growth.”
So too were the Raiders, who eventually picked Parker in the third round (No. 65 overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft, pairing him with first-round pick Kolton Miller, putting the duo on the left and right side of the offensive line respectively, at least for the time being.
And while Parker played his entire career at North Carolina A&T on the left side, his former offensive line coach Ron Mattes is confident that the rookie will get in the swing of things – no pun intended – given the chance to get comfortable on the other side of the line.
“It’s going to take a little time because it’s not natural, but once you do it, you should be able to flip back and forth, and a lot of guys do it, it’s just that he hasn’t done it,” Mattes explained. “I told him when he was getting out, and getting ready to go into the Senior Bowl, ‘start practicing your right, because you’re going to be asked be a swing tackle in the NFL, especially as a young tackle.’ If he grows into one side or the other, and that’s his fit for him, that’s his fit, but when you start out in the league, you have to be versatile.”
Standing at 6’8” and tipping the scales at just over 300 pounds, Parker now very much looks like a prototypical NFL tackle, but that certainly wasn’t always the case, as he arrived in Greensboro looking more like a stretch four in basketball rather than a future professional lineman.
During his four years as an Aggie, Parker put on 40-plus pounds, and unleashed more of his natural strength and athleticism, accepting the challenge and then some from the NC A&T staff to improve his body.
“He looked like a basketball player,” Washington said of a young Brandon Parker. “But through the hard work, and the time that he put in it, he transformed himself, his body, and we really encouraged that he got much stronger, and he did.”
“He’s a hard-working kid,” added Mattes. “He works on his craft on a daily basis, and he improved the whole time I’ve been here. It was a joy watching him work hard, and improve, and be rewarded with being picked by the Raiders in the third round.”
Considered a consummate team leader in college, Parker – who also balanced a full scholastic load as an engineering major – would often be in the gym before the sun rose each day, and now with a chance to fully dedicate himself to his craft, his old head coach thinks that the rookie lineman is just scratching the surface of what he’s capable of becoming.
“Brandon was one of those guys that always had to work out 5:30 in the morning, just with his class schedule, that’s [how] he could fit everything in the day, so his workouts started out at 5:30 a.m. every day,” Washington said. “Now he can get a little more sleep, put a little more time into making his body better, of course it’s going to benefit him.”
During his four years as an Aggie, Parker saw the accolades pour in; he was named a First-Team All-American, earned MEAC Offensive Lineman of the Year honors twice, and also anchored a NC A&T offensive line that was routinely one of the best in the league.
Parker certainly isn’t a finished product – no rookie is – but according to Mattes, the powerful lineman excels in one area in particular, and it’s an area that should bring a smile to the face of Derek Carr.
“I think the best part of his game is he’s a good pass blocker,” Mattes said. “He gets his hands on his guy, moves his feet very well. He’s going to have to probably continue to get a stronger core with his body to go up against those bigger, stronger guys. He’s worked very hard to get where he is, now it’s just continue the growth factor. That’s about it.”
Parker is the second North Carolina A&T Aggie to be drafted in as many years, joining current Chicago Bears running back Tarik Cohen, and while Coach Washington’s Sundays are usually reserved for cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers – to be fair, he did play three-plus seasons for the team – he did cede that with Parker now in the league, there will be a soft spot in his heart for the Raiders.
“I wore the Gold and Black, so that’s going to be a little difficult for me,” Washington joked. “I’ll be [able] to take off that hat when they play, and cheer for the Silver and Black… Looking forward to his career, it’s going to be a long, illustrious career.”
Jon Gruden and the Raiders are very much looking forward to the exact same thing.