35 years after ‘The Drop,’ Brent Parker is preaching resilience to a new audience

35 years after ‘The Drop,’ Brent Parker is preaching resilience to a new audience

Brent Parker — yes, that Brent Parker — is now coaching high school football in Blackwell. How the former Oklahoma State receiver got there is unconventional but totally in line with his bigger vision.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Sep 6, 2023, 2:51pm CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Sep 6, 2023, 2:51pm CDT

BLACKWELL — Gavin Schuetz knew exactly what he needed to do when he found out his Blackwell High School football team would be led by a first-time head coach who’d played receiver at Oklahoma State.

The senior cornerback headed to YouTube to search for highlights.

“One of the first things I did,” Schuetz admitted.

A teammate who was listening as they prepared for practice piped up.

“Look at the VHS?” he chided.

Their first-time head coach, after all, wasn’t a youngster. 

When Brent Parker — yes, the Brent Parker — took over at Blackwell High School two years ago, he was ˛ in his 50s with a balding head and a graying beard. So YouTube clips of him catching (and dropping) passes from Mike Gundy in the 1980s were a bit grainy.

High definition in those days was only achieved with a magnifying glass.

Parker smiled as his players talked. Wearing a floppy bucket hat, wrap-around sunglasses and a whistle around his neck, he looked the part of a small-school football coach. Looked like he has been doing this for a while, too.

His previous life was far from this small community 15 miles south of the Kansas state line, a place where farmers intermingle with oil-and-gas workers and the Oklahoma horizon seems to stretch to forever. Parker built a career in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, doing sales for national companies such as Sprint, Qwest and Travelocity.

So, how did he end up back in Oklahoma coaching football? 

“I definitely did it kind of backwards to the traditional way,” he said, “but I guess I’ve never been away from it either.”

And maybe there’s just a bit of irony that his football journey has brought him to a place that’s only an hour from his Stillwater alma mater, a place of his greatest triumphs and his lowest moment.

Parker was a key piece of one of OSU’s greatest teams, the 1988 Cowboys that featured Barry Sanders, Hart Lee Dykes and Gundy. As a speedy receiver, Parker helped take pressure off Dykes and OSU’s other big-play receiver Jarrod Green, as those Cowboys won 10 games and went to the Holiday Bowl. 

Yet, Parker is best known for a drop. The Drop, some Cowboy fans call it. It came in the final minute of the 1988 Bedlam game — can you believe it’s been 35 years? — and had Parker been able to corral the fourth-down pass, it would’ve won the game. 

Thing is, Parker sees that moment as a testimony. He’s talked about it with players he’s coached. How he had to put the drop behind him. How he refused to let it define him. How he fought and persevered.

That’s what he’s trying to teach his players now.

Even as Blackwell has struggled winning only four games in Parker’s first two seasons, he sees coaching as a higher calling. He’s trying to teach not only how to block and tackle but also how to grow and persevere.

“That’s the stuff,” he said, “that keeps you going.”

‘You need to be a head coach’

Brent Parker started coaching his sons, Austin and Braden, when they were in preschool.

And once they got into football, their dad was always on the sidelines. He organized a summer football camp that grew from a few dozen players to several hundred. He became the leader of the Colleyville-Grapevine youth football league.

Jenni Carlson’s 2008 profile of former OSU receiver Brent Parker marked the 20th anniversary of his dropped pass in an epic 1988 Bedlam game in Stillwater. (Newspapers.com)

Along the way, he realized he had a dream of being a high school football coach.

“I just had a passion for giving back after what my coaches gave back to me. … And just the knowledge that I’ve gained through the different experiences that I’ve been blessed with, it was just a waste if I was going to be in sales.”

He knew high school coaches didn’t make much money, so he worked in sales and became a volunteer youth coach while he and wife, Deanna, were raising their boys.

Then in 2015, their oldest son, Austin, decided to transfer from Southwestern Oklahoma State, where he had been playing football, and walk on at OSU. The Parkers decided to make a move, too. They wanted to be closer to Deanna’s family in Oklahoma; she was born in Stillwater and grew up in nearby Yale. Brent thought it might be time to dip his toe in the high-school-coaching waters.

He called former OSU teammates for leads and landed at McAlester as offensive coordinator. He got to coach his youngest son, Braden, who quarterbacked the Buffaloes to the state quarterfinals as a senior.

Parker moved to Ponca City in 2018 to be the offensive coordinator there, but his mind kept going back something his high school coach said at a reunion of his team in Mission Viejo, California. 

“You need to be a head coach.”

Said Parker, “He gave me the confidence that hey, yeah, you’re ready.” 

In 2021, as he was about to interview for a coordinator job at a Class 6A school in the Oklahoma City area, he got a call from Blackwell. The Class 2A school wanted him to be its next head coach.

Parker made a call to Pat Jones, his head coach at OSU. Should he go to a smaller school? Should he try to stay at a bigger school?

Jones’ advice: if you want to be a head coach, you need to take the head-coaching job.

Parker said yes to Blackwell.

When he first got to town, he asked for a roster of returning football players. 

“There was only six kids that signed up for football,” Parker said.

Brent Parker doesn’t just coach the football team at Blackwell High School. He also mows the field, washes the uniforms and drives the bus — and he loves it. (Jenni Carlson/Sellout Crowd)

Selling Blackwell on football

Blackwell has a strong tradition in wrestling, winning nine state titles and two state duals titles.

In lots of places, wrestling success dovetails into football success.

Not at Blackwell.

Over the last decade, the football program hasn’t had a winning season. The closest it came was the year before Parker’s arrival when the Maroons went 5-5. Interest was low, and so was participation.

Parker said administrators discussed dropping the sport.

His first season the high school and middle school teams each had a little over 30 players. Last year in his second season, the high school roster grew to more than 40 players while the middle school was around 60.

“You have to relate to the kids,” said Marques Odom, who Parker hired away from Enid to be his defensive coordinator. “Out here, these kids are very … ”

Odom searched for the right words as he sat inside a cramped coaches’ office with fans working overtime to cool the room and doors opening constantly as players and managers came and went before practice.

“We’ll put it this way: they’re very independent,” Odom said. “They raise themselves.

“A lot of them have not real good home lives, and for us being male authority figures — the majority of the fathers aren’t in the picture — it was a struggle for us at first.”

Earlier this summer, one of the freshman offensive lineman admitted that lots of players didn’t try hard when Parker first arrived.

“Because we didn’t think you’d be here long,” the freshman said.

Parker and his assistants see that attitude changing, but progress is slow. Some players don’t buy in. They don’t want to be disappointed.

“Because so many male figures have left them,” Odom said. 

“You’ve got to keep proving it to them.”

Blackwell football coach Brent Parker is getting his Maroons ready for their next game, Sept. 15 at home against Tonkawa. (Jenni Carlson/Sellout Crowd)

‘Here for more than coaching’

Gavin Schuetz has been playing football since he was 6, and since the cornerback/receiver is a senior, this is his final season.

He’d love nothing more than to make the playoffs.

“But the wins and losses … doesn’t really matter,” he said. “I just want to be together and actually compete in games and not get blown out every week.”

Last season, seven of Blackwell’s nine losses were by 40 points or more.

“It just sucks,” Schuetz said.

Blackwell has shown signs of improvement this season. Even though it lost to Cleveland (14-6)  and Afton (34-9), neither game got out of hand. 

Parker pushes his players to compete, to keep going even when things get difficult. He knows that’s how they’ll get better on the football field, but even more important, that’s how they’ll need to approach challenges in real life.

Still, he wants to win and worries when Blackwell doesn’t.

“We’re not winning, we’re not winning,” he’ll tell his assistants.

“It’s not always about winning,” they’ll tell him.

About a month ago, a player who graduated last year called Parker after his first week of Army basic training.

“We’re allowed one phone call,” he told Parker.

The young man talked about all he’d done, but Parker couldn’t help thinking, “He called me instead of his folks.

“And it kind of hit me: maybe that’s what I’m here for more than coaching.”

Share with your crowd
Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

The latest from Sellout Crowd

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; The Oklahoma City Thunder bench watch the final minute of their game against the Dallas Mavericks during the second half of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    Does OKC need more Aaron Wiggins?

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder fans cheer as their team scores against the Dallas Mavericks during the second quarter of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    Thunder-Mavericks: Why these playoffs might spawn a new OKC rival

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) drives to the basket beside Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) during the second half of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    OKC fans chanted ‘Luka sucks,’ but Doncic’s play said otherwise

  • Tailgating on The Grove on the Ole Miss campus in Oxford, Ms., on Saturday September 15, 2018.

Pre309

    OU’s move to the SEC: Listing the things to look foward to

  • Ireland travelblog: Farewell to the Emerald Isle, which keep Americans coming

The latest from Sellout Crowd

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; The Oklahoma City Thunder bench watch the final minute of their game against the Dallas Mavericks during the second half of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    Does OKC need more Aaron Wiggins?

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder fans cheer as their team scores against the Dallas Mavericks during the second quarter of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    Thunder-Mavericks: Why these playoffs might spawn a new OKC rival

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) drives to the basket beside Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) during the second half of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    OKC fans chanted ‘Luka sucks,’ but Doncic’s play said otherwise

  • Tailgating on The Grove on the Ole Miss campus in Oxford, Ms., on Saturday September 15, 2018.

Pre309

    OU’s move to the SEC: Listing the things to look foward to

  • Ireland travelblog: Farewell to the Emerald Isle, which keep Americans coming