The countdown to kickoff is on. Over the 100 days before Texas takes on Maryland, we’re counting down the 100 best players the Longhorns will face in 2017. This series is all about impressing your friends at pregame tailgates and watch parties, so grab a notepad and buckle up.
Who is he?
The story of Joel Lanning’s transition to linebacker is an intriguing one. It’s so good, in fact, that it might have overshadowed the equally interesting tale of how Jacob Park came to replace him. Two years removed from playing in a church-sponsored flag football league, Park is primed to become one of the Big 12’s breakout stars of 2017.
The former blue-chip recruit who was South Carolina’s Mr. Football in 2013 took a series of twists and turns that eventually led him to Ames. He spent his freshman season at Georgia, but has since admitted that immaturity and partying led him to quit the team in 2015. He enrolled at Trident Technical College near his home, and because the school didn’t offer football he sharpened his skills leading a flag football team made up of family and friends.
Park eventually ended up at Northeast Oklahoma A&M, but new Iowa State coach Matt Campbell had other ideas for him. After sharing snaps with Lanning most of last season, he won the job in November. Campbell named Park the full-time starter this spring and moved Lanning to linebacker.
What should the Longhorns watch for?
Park showed flashes of his potential throughout 2016 as he completed 58.9 percent of his passes and threw 12 touchdowns to five interceptions. He has a strong arm, and at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds can be difficult to bring down in the pocket. He’s also surprisingly quick. With another year to learn the offense and a wealth of talent at skill positions, don’t be surprised if Park puts up some gaudy numbers.
Park’s first meeting with the Longhorns didn’t go so well. Lanning was still the starter, and the offense sputtered. Park completed 7 of 12 passes for 42 yards as the Cyclones failed to produce a touchdown.
As if this story couldn’t get any better, Park and his girlfriend BreAwna Garrett are expecting a child in July. The pair met during the semester Park spent in Oklahoma, which adds another twist to his non-traditional college football career.
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