Whenever UVa takes the field, two players lead the team out carrying two flags: the Unites States of America and the Commonwealth of Virginia. This past weekend at NC State, it was North Carolina native Kevin Parks who carried the latter of those flags.
But leading the Wahoos is something Parks has done all season and something he did especially well this weekend and it started on Friday night.
In a move that surprised many on the team, it was Parks who was called on during a team function the night before the game to speak to his team. A 5-foot-8, 200-pound redshirt sophomore, this would be his sixth game against a team from the Tar Heel State and he was looking to make a statement. More importantly, he wanted his team to make one.
"Just believe, man," Parks said of his message to the team. "Just believe in your coaches, in your teammates, in this team. Everybody knows what we're doing. Just believe and don't doubt. And I believe that happened today, man."
After a stellar performance where he racked up 115 yards on 25 carries and put an exclamation point on the win with a 31-yard TD run, he could finally smile even if he missed his career high in rushing yard by just 14.
"We needed to get our confidence back, to get that swag back," he said. "And I believe that happened today. Everybody was having fun and when you're having fun, good things are happening."
Parks, along with reserve linebacker Tucker Windle, talked to the team on Friday.
"I was like, 'Dang, him?!?'," true freshman defensive end Eli Harold said he thought when Parks was called on to speak. "He gave great word and it definitely showed on the field today."
Parks got the opportunity to speak maybe because of the fact that he is a quiet leader. As a Carolina native, head coach Mike London knew this game meant a lot to him but so too did his team breaking a six-game losing streak.
"He called me and told me to talk, so I'm sitting there thinking about what I'm going to say," Parks explained. "I'm writing things down, jotting things down, because I'm not a big talker. But I just spoke from my heart and felt like I said what needed to be said and the team, they kind of took what I said and they believe in it. That was big last night and it carried over into today."
Parks, who leads the team in rushing this season with 618 yards on 128 carries with four touchdowns, had a standout freshman year in 2011. He ran for 709 yards and set the school's rushing touchdown record for first-year players with nine. But his team lost at UNC when he ran for 98 and lost at home to NC State when he ran for just 18. That UVa was able to beat Duke in Charlottesville when he rushed for 78 was the only positive against Carolina schools.
Things had gotten worse this season, as Virginia lost at Duke and at home to Wake Forest. This Saturday's game at NC State was a chance for Parks to finally make a statement against one of the local teams that refused to really give the Salisbury native a look. He may have been Gatorade's Player of the Year in the state as a senior but he didn't get a lot of respect from the schools there.
"Duke game didn't go the way I wanted it to go," Parks said. "Wake came to us and that was another North Carolina team. And that didn't go our way. Chapel Hill last year, that didn't go (our way). But it worked today."
Getting tickets for all of his family and friends was tough.
"Man, I had like 42 tickets I had to get," he said with a smile. "Anytime you get your family here and you score in front of them, it's real big. It's a joy for me and I know it's a joy for my family."
Coaches trusted the running backs, he said, and that score in the fourth quarter was a sign of that trust. That long touchdown run came on a 4th down when he says UVa wanted to keep control of the game.
"Fourth down, we wanted to keep the ball in our hands," Parks said. "And I just saw the little seam and I hit it as hard as I could. I wasn't going to be denied, man."
That run carried with it a lot of frustration built up over the team's last previous games. Parks left some of that in that end zone in Raleigh.
"We needed it real bad," he said. "That bye week helped us. We were able to work on some things that we really needed to work on. And this game, it was a big statement.
"That one is going to turn into some more. And I know it. My team believes in it. The coaches believe in it. We've got to believe in each other and keep doing it. This thing is about to turn around, I'm telling you."
Added Harold, "That's a passionate guy. I love him, man. It just shows when you come together what you can do."
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