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July 25, 2010

ACC notes: Parker decision surprises Clemson

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker's decision to continue his football career stunned even his teammates.

Parker, the first Division I athlete to throw 20 touchdown passes and hit 20 home runs in the same school year, was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the first round in June. But instead of giving up football to launch a pro baseball career, Parker announced last week he would be back with Clemson's football team this fall.

"I was real surprised when Kyle made that decision," Clemson strong safety DeAndre McDaniel said Sunday at the ACC Media Days event at the Grandover Resort. "Not too many people thought he'd pass up that first-round baseball money. There aren't too many people who would pass that up."

Parker, the 26th overall pick in the draft, reportedly turned down a seven-figure signing bonus in order to continue his football career. Although Parker continues to negotiate with the Rockies, his signing bonus now would be much less lucrative since he wouldn't be playing baseball exclusively.

Although the move cost Parker quite a bit of money, it significantly upgraded Clemson's chances of defending its ACC Atlantic Division title. If Parker had ended his football career, redshirt freshman Tajh Boyd likely would have opened the season as Clemson's starting quarterback.

Of course, it isn't impossible for a redshirt freshman to lead a team to a division title. After all, Parker did it just last year.

Then again, Parker had the benefit of playing alongside C.J. Spiller, the ACC's leader in career all-purpose yardage. Now that Spiller has moved on to the NFL's Buffalo Bills, Clemson will need much more production from its quarterback.

"We know we can expand and do that much more, knowing we have a guy that knows the playbook, knows the nuances of the offense and has played through it and has seen the looks against other teams," Clemson offensive tackle Chris Hairston said. "He's a guy who knows how to prepare every week. He's seen success and knows how to deal with it. He's seen the losses and understands how to deal with them. It just helps the team become better overall."

Although conventional wisdom made it seem unlikely Parker would play football this fall, at least one person at Clemson anticipated that possibility.

Clemson sports information director Tim Bourret prepared two versions of its media guide. On one version, Parker was on the cover along with Hairston, McDaniel, free safety Marcus Gilchrist and defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins. In the other version, Parker was missing.

Only the version that included Parker was printed. Parker's announcement came just more than an hour before Clemson officials had to send the media guide to the printers.

Tar Heel distractions
The return of a talent-laden defense makes this one of the most anticipated seasons in recent history at North Carolina, but the Tar Heels lately have made the wrong kind of headlines.

The NCAA reportedly is investigating whether senior defensive tackle Marvin Austin and senior wide receiver Greg Little received improper benefits from agents. North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn and quarterback T.J. Yates downplayed the impact of the recent reports and indicated the issues hasn't caused a major distraction.

"We're preparing as if we're going to be full strength going into training camp and going into that first game," Yates said.

The agent issue was a major topic in ACC commissioner John Swofford's question-and-answer session with reporters. Swofford said he believed ACC schools were doing a good job of educating student-athletes on the rules regarding contact with agents.

Swofford suggested re-evaluating the NCAA regulations on this issue and enacting tougher sanctions on rogue agents. He also encouraged prosecuting and suspending any students that serve as runners and violate state law.

"I don't claim to have all the answers," Swofford said. "It's a problem that's tough to get your arms around, but I think there are things we can do.''

Herzlich's risk
Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich understands the risks involved in his comeback from Ewing's sarcoma.

Herzlich had a titanium rod placed in his left leg during his recovery from this rare form of bone cancer. Herzlich, the 2008 ACC defensive player of the year, participated in non-contact drills this spring and expects to be ready for the Eagles' Sept. 4 season opener with Weber State.

"Right now we feel like my bone's very strong," Herzlich said. "It's as strong as it can be basically. The titanium rod through the center of my leg helps in strengthening it. It's solid. It could break, but it's not going to break more easily than any other person's leg.

"The problem comes if it does break. If my leg does break, it will have a very hard time healing because of all the radiation damage, the chemo damage to the actual spot. I'm obviously doing everything I can to protect the leg, but I can't play overcautiously. Whether a freak accident happens to me on the field or a car accident or something like that, that's out of my control. I've just got to keep playing like I would anytime."

Ponder-ing the Heisman
Florida State has launched a Web site (www.cp7forheisman.com) to promote quarterback Christian Ponder's Heisman campaign. The Seminoles followed that up by giving the media notebooks -- complete with a business card and resume -- to spotlight Ponder's Heisman credentials.

"They made sure I was comfortable with everything and kind of showed me what was going to happen," Ponder said. "Guys are giving me a hard time and kind of joking around about it, but I like to think it's because they're a little jealous. I'm trying to enjoy the whole moment."

Florida State sports information director Tina Dechausay came up with the notebook idea to give the campaign a business feel because of Ponder's academic background. Ponder earned his bachelor's degree in 2 years and owns a 3.7 grade-point average.

Ponder, McDaniel reunite
The last time Ponder saw McDaniel, Clemson's strong safety had just picked off a pass during a 40-24 victory over Florida State. A frustrated Ponder tried to make the tackle and separated his throwing shoulder in the process.

They met again Sunday under different circumstances.

"We were joking around about it," Ponder said. "There are no hard feelings between us. A couple of weeks after the whole thing happened, he sent me a Facebook message kind of making sure that I was OK, checking up on me and wishing me well. It was pretty cool."

McDaniel, a native of Tallahassee, Fla., said the incident caused him to gain respect for Ponder.

"That's what you call an aggressive quarterback," McDaniel said. "He's a competitor. He's got that 'want-to.' He wants to win every time he steps on the field."

The rust factor
The play of Herzlich and N.C. State linebacker Nate Irving will represent one of the most intriguing stories of the 2010 season.

Both were among the ACC's top defensive players in 2008 before sitting out the '09 season for medical reasons. Both remain confident they can recapture their '08 form, though they acknowledge it might take time to shake off the rust.

"I can realistically do it," Herzlich said. "I'll find out a lot more during camp, obviously. That's where I'm going to knock a lot of the rust off. We have so many practices during camp that we have plenty of time to kind of get back into it. Things will go how they go. I'm going to do everything I can to get back to where I was."

Irving won't be satisfied with matching his 2008 performance. He wants to be better.

"I want to exceed what I was in '08," said Irving, who suffered a collapsed lung and a compound fracture in his left leg during a June 2009 car wreck. "You don't stay the same. You either get better or you get worse. I'm striving to be better than I was.

"I don't want to come back and play any less than I did in 2008. I'm looking forward to coming back and being better than I was."

The Charlotte bounce
The ACC championship game's move to Charlotte is producing a boost in initial ticket sales. Lower-sideline tickets already are sold out for the Dec. 4 prime-time game at Bank of America Stadium, ACC associate commissioner Michael Kelly said. Kelly added that the majority of club seats also have been sold.

Attendance has been a constant problem for the championship game, which started in Jacksonville in 2005 and moved to Tampa in 2008. Although the announced attendance for each of the past two games in Tampa was more than 50,000, the actual turnstile count was 27,630 in 2008 and 42,815 in 2009. Of course, it didn't help matters that Florida State's only championship game appearance came in 2005 and Miami never has made it that far.

While it appears as though the championship game has found a home in Charlotte, that doesn't necessarily mean it's never returning to Florida.

"I don't think we've ruled anything out in terms of the future," Swofford said.

Roddy rebound?
Georgia Tech running back Roddy Jones rushed for exactly half as many yards (345) last season as he did in 2008. His average of 6.5 yards per carry in '09 was impressive, but he'd gained an astounding 8.5 yards per attempt a year earlier.

Jones was playing with an injured right wrist that required a cast. Now that he's healthy again, Jones is looking to thrive in an expanded role necessitated by former ACC offensive player of the year Jonathan Dwyer's decision to turn pro.

"It was something that definitely hindered my ability to carry the ball," Jones said. "The cast went up over my hand, so I didn't have all the motion in my hand or the dexterity. It was something that definitely hindered me a little bit."

Jones said he felt much more comfortable during spring practice when he didn't have to worry about the cast.

"Maybe it was just a mental thing," he said, "but there was definitely a big difference for me."

The Yellow Jackets need big seasons from Jones and Anthony Allen as they attempt to replace the production of Dwyer, who rushed for 1,395 yards in each of the past two seasons. Georgia Tech isn't a popular pick to repeat as the ACC champion in part because Dwyer, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, defensive end Derrick Morgan and strong safety Morgan Burnett chose to enter the draft.

Jones has noticed the lack of respect.

"I've seen a lot of people write us off because of those four guys being gone," he said. "We've been training all summer like we're the underdogs again, like people are counting us out. We're going to come in with a chip on our shoulder to prove we have what it takes to repeat."

Country kid in the city
Defensive end Allen Bailey isn't the stereotypical Miami player.

Bailey grew up among 60 residents of Hog Hammock on Sapelo Island, located off the Georgia coast. He used to take a ferry to get to school. He spent much of his childhood fishing, and tells stories about how relatives would hunt for opossum and raccoons.

So how did he end up at Miami?

"It wasn't really a culture shock for me because it's my personality and everything like that," Bailey said. "I guess it was a change of scenery. I wanted a change of scenery."

That doesn't necessarily mean Bailey will stay in a big city after his football career is over.

"I'll be in the country," he said. "It's peaceful."

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.



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