When Will Parks made his official visit to Arizona as a high school senior, one thing stood above everything else.
It wasn’t coach Rich Rodriguez or Arizona Stadium or anything like that. The Philadelphia product, used to bitterly cold winters, couldn’t believe he was able to swim outside in late January.
The two-star defensive back recruit committed to Arizona during his cross-country visit, packed his swim trunks and enrolled at the UA a few months later.
Parks, now a sophomore, is doing a different kind of swimming lately. This version is not nearly as fun as his late-January dips.
“I’ve been getting in the cold tub a whole lot lately to take care of my body,” Parks said.
It’s hard to blame him.
Parks has filled in for the injured Jared Tevis at the “bandit” safety position the past two games. And while Tevis, who is battling a knee injury, likely still has his starting spot when he returns, Parks is at least making the coaching staff think about its options.
Parks registered five tackles and one pass breakup against Utah. Saturday against Colorado, Parks had seven tackles and two pass breakups; he also intercepted a pass, returning it 19 yards.
“He made a really nice play on the pick,” Rodriguez said. “He read the quarterback’s eyes and I’m sure the quarterback didn’t see him and he made a nice play on that. He’s an athletic guy that’s still learning.
“You can just see his confidence growing and him getting better and better.”
The 6-foot-1-inch, 191-pound Parks said it took a second to realize he’d grabbed his first career interception. He finally knew he had the ball when senior Marquis Flowers yelled at him, “Come on, come on, come on.”
“Once I got tackled and I got up, I was like, ‘I just got an interception,’ ” Parks said. “We were in zone coverage. Marquis ended up under the No. 1 receiver and Shaq (Richardson) was over the top, so I looked at the quarterback and he was looking to the other side of the field and my eyes got wide.”
As a true freshman last season, Parks played in all 13 games as a special teams contributor and had nine total tackles.
He opened this year as the backup to Tevis and a member of Arizona’s third-down defense as an extra safety. When Tevis hurt his knee against USC, the UA turned to Parks.
“Obviously getting this experience will help me in the long run,” Parks said. “I had to grow a whole lot from last year. Last year, it was kinda tough because I wanted to fill out. This year, they’re calling my name, so I had to be ready.”
Parks obviously doesn’t bring the same experience that Tevis does, but may bring more athleticism to the position. Coaches wanted to see more attention to detail from Parks off and on the field.
They wanted him to get away from just being able to rely on his athleticism the way he did in high school and work as hard in the weight room and the film room as he was on the field.
Rodriguez said they noticed an improvement in the offseason and have seen an even bigger jump the last few weeks as Parks has gotten more playing time.
It’s not uncommon to see players take the game more seriously once they see the field more, Rodriguez said.
“I think once you play a little bit and you get a taste of it, you’re like, ‘Jeez, I like this playing 60-70-80 plays a game,’ ” Rodriguez said.
Parks’ development is an encouraging sign for the second-year coach.
He hopes that when Tevis comes back (which is a possibility this Saturday against Cal) and Parks sees his playing time decreased, there will be more competition at the position. It’s part of Rodriguez’s larger plan: Ultimately, Rodriguez hopes that tough battles for starting jobs will develop at every position.
“We’re trying to foster that type of competition every day and get to the point where you might be starting on Tuesday, but not on Wednesday,” Rodriguez said. “If our guys don’t give good effort or they slip at all, we’ll do everything we can to provide that competition because the basis of our program moving forward will be built on all that.”
Running back Ka’Deem Carey was named a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award on Tuesday morning. The Maxwell Award is given to the top collegiate player in the country. Carey was one of five Pac-12 players on the 16-player list and one of four running backs.
Three finalists for the award will be revealed on Nov. 25. The winner will be announced on Dec. 12 at the Home Depot College Football Awards Show on ESPN.
Carey is leading the country in rushing yards per game at 153.3 and has 10 rushing touchdowns.