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Parks carrying the load for Virginia running game

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Posted: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 11:00 pm

On the brink of his first preseason camp as Virginia’s offensive coordinator, Steve Fairchild had a definite style in mind. He just didn’t mention a specific name to trigger it.

“Running the football, it’s a physical attitude as much as anything,” Fairchild told media members on Aug. 2. “And it’s not just upfront. It’s with backs finishing, the way they go accelerating into contact, and receivers blocking and so forth.

“Eleven guys contribute to the run game.”

But only one carries the football.

If Fairchild wanted to have a power team, he needed a power back.

Enter the credentials of a Kevin Parks. Through two years, he used the space in between the tackles to generate most of his 1,443 yards.

It seemed like an ideal marriage.

Two months later, Parks has the third-most carries of any running back in the ACC. He’s on pace for 211 attempts, the most by a Cavalier since Wali Lundy got the rock 227 times in 2003. His 88 carries through five games trump his previous five-week high by 21. Parks’ 398 yards are the fourth-most in the league and put him on pace for 955, which would be the 15th-highest season total in Virginia history and most since Alvin Pearman went for 1,037 in 2004.

“Kevin's done a nice job with his opportunities to run the ball,” UVa head coach Mike London said Monday. “Wanting to go into the season as a team that wants to run the ball and set up the play-action passes off of it, he's really acclimated himself well to running between the tackles, trying to find things that even get him out of the backfield — the swing routes and different plays.

“He is a large part of our offense.”

Parks is second on the team with 14 receptions for 132 yards.

While the Virginia backfield has been hampered by injuries (a sprained ankle kept Khalek Shepherd out of the VMI game and limited his ability against Pitt; a sprained ankle sidelined Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell for VMI and Pitt; Daniel Hamm left the Pitt game early with a shoulder injury and didn’t play against Ball State), Parks has remained the constant.

And he doesn’t plan on wearing down.

“When the game is on, I feel like I’m going to be able to be there,” Parks said Wednesday. “When my number’s called, I’m ready. I take pride in that. I work hard every day to be able to perform on the field, Saturday.”

Because of the added workload, Parks said he’s spent more time in the weight room this season as well as concentrating more on stretching.

Including Saturday’s 3:30 p.m., trip to Maryland (4-1, 0-1 ACC), UVa (2-3, 0-1) has seven games remaining on its schedule.

That’s seven more tests of Parks’ durability.

All 16 of the junior’s carries in the 48-27 loss to Ball State last week were between the tackles. None of his 104 yards — nor a costly third quarter fumble — came from sweeps or pitches. It was all pounding draws and dives.

So far, his 5-foot-8, 205-pound frame has held up. History suggest it will thrive through October and November. Entering this season, Parks had nine career games of 74 yards or more. Five came during the last seven games of the season.

Then again, he had the reliable Perry Jones (1,378 yards in 2011-12) to help shoulder the load. In 2013, Parks is still searching for a top wingman.

Among running backs, Hamm has the second-most carries with 23, but 21 came in one game. Shepherd has carried 19 times for 142 yards. Mizzell has carried 18 times for 44 yards.

That trio seems to lack the power presence Parks can provide. Against Ball State, Parks received no second quarter carries. After a David Watford touchdown less than 20 seconds into that period, the Cavaliers didn’t score again until after halftime. Naturally, it was Parks who did the honors, bullying into the end zone from two yards out to cap a third quarter drive in which he carried six times for 35 yards.

“I feel like Smoke and Khalek and Hamm, when he’s in, can get it done when I’m out of the game,” Parks said. “They’re all very good backs and they all know the playbook very well. ... I think each and every one of them will get it done when I’m not in there.”

But they know who their workhorse is.

“He’s the type that doesn’t back down from a challenge,” Shepherd said of Parks. “He has a big heart and he’s a strong guy, strong-willed guy. I always knew that he could carry the load. It doesn’t matter if he gets 30-40 carries a game or whether he gets 10 or 15, he’s going to give all he’s got.”

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