Last week, I told the story of Hilton Head High legend Poona Ford’s incredible journey from an undrafted afterthought to an NFL standout. But Poona wasn’t the only Lowco football star to defy the odds.
There was very little interest at the college level for Beaufort High defensive back Ron Parker. But he wasn’t ready to let his gridiron dreams slip away that quickly. It would take a steep road with lots of hurdles to get to the top of the mountain, and Parker was ready to accept the challenge.
His first stop out of the Lowcountry was a little school in the middle of Kansas: Independence Community College. The school, which was featured in the third and fourth seasons of the famous Netflix football documentary “Last Chance U,” gave him a golden opportunity to grow his game at the next level while he worked hard in the classroom. That commitment and dedication earned him a chance in the NCAA Division II ranks back in his home state.
Going into the start of his new chapter at Newberry College, Parker found himself buried down on the depth chart. But the former Eagle was no stranger to working his way up from the bottom. He dug deep once again, put in the work, and impressed the Wolves’ coaching staff in every way he could. At the end of his junior season, he was the South Atlantic Conference Player of the Year. His blazing speed and unending determination to shut down each and every play earned him a dignified nickname: “The Ghost.” Parker continued his momentum into his 2010 senior campaign, capping off a storied Newberry career as a two-time team leader in interceptions while earning NCAA Division II All-America honors.
But the amazing redemption story didn’t stop there.
If he could climb up the ladder at the college ranks, he knew there was no reason he couldn’t do it again at the highest level of them all. Unfortunately, The Ghost went invisible on the radars of NFL scouts, and on draft weekend in 2011, 254 other names were called instead.
Parker never gave up hope.
What followed was a seemingly endless grind, hopping from one practice squad to another in hopes of landing that coveted spot on an active roster. After initially joining the Seattle Seahawks that same year, Parker then made his way to Oakland. On a Sunday afternoon in October, he took the field as a Raider and made a childhood dream a reality. The dream didn’t last long. Just 20 days later, he was told to pack his bags.
Despite the outcome, Parker knew he had what it took to excel in the league. The grind continued. Back to Seattle, then across the country to Carolina, then right back to Seattle. It seemed like he may never get that big break.
Then, in 2013, Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs came calling. He was buried on the depth chart once again behind a mix of veteran and young defensive backs. But Parker never doubted his ability, and took his play to another gear. In Week 2 against the Dallas Cowboys, The Ghost raced into the backfield and sacked Tony Romo. As the season approached its final stretch, the Chiefs marched into Oakland in Week 15 searching for a key divisional win. In the house of the team that cut him back in 2011, Parker picked off a Terrelle Pryor pass for his first career interception. The last laugh was his. After another INT to end the season in San Diego, Parker had proven himself as a reliable and talented NFL safety.
The good times just kept on rolling with a five-year, $25 million contract. The Ghost was a problem for anyone who crossed his path. In 2015, Parker tracked down a deep throw down the right sideline and hauled it in. The quarterback who threw it? An 18-year veteran named Peyton Manning. A year later, he pulled off a highlight-reel one-handed interception against the Titans. And in 2018, Parker took one to the end zone under the Sunday night primetime lights against Cincinnati.
In all, he totaled 394 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, eight sacks, 11 interceptions, and five fumble recoveries in 105 NFL games before he took off the cleats for good in January of 2020.
It didn’t seem that long ago when Parker was staring up at the lights of a football stadium in a little town in the South Carolina Lowcountry, dreaming big of what was to come. The NFL seemed like a faraway place from a tiny junior college in the middle of Kansas. But Parker completed the improbable journey to the biggest stage. Now, his name will be etched forever in the Newberry College Athletics Hall of Fame. It’s more than deserving for a man who never let his dream go and put every ounce of dedication into his craft.
Ron Parker and Poona Ford are living proof that if you visualize the goal and deliver the effort, anything is possible.
By Wes Kerr