Take a guess who two of Missouri’s three leading receivers were.
I’ll give you a hint. It didn’t consist of Emanuel Hall, Jalen Knox or Nate Brown.
Instead, a pair of true freshmen from the Kansas City area shined: tight end Daniel Parker Jr. and slot receiver Dominic Gicinto. The two combined for 121 yards on seven catches and a touchdown in Saturday’s win, while the rest of the Missouri receiving corps — comprised of Johnathon Johnson, Hall, Knox and Richaud Floyd — combined for 113 yards.
“At this point in the year, nobody’s really a freshman that’s played; that’s kind of the approach we take,” Odom said. “That’s the challenge. They’ve got to keep getting better. We’re counting on them, relying on them to step up and make big plays, and they’ve both done some good things and I’m glad they are freshmen. They’ll be counted on and leaned on heavily here in the next couple weeks.”
Gicinto led the team in receiving with four catches for 81 yards, while Parker nabbed three passes for 42 yards and a touchdown in the third quarter.
After a run-fake that got Vanderbilt’s middle linebacker to bite inward, Parker slipped past him, caught a lofted ball from Drew Lock and waltzed into the end zone for a 20-yard score.
Floyd hopped on Parker’s back while Paul Adams and the rest of the offensive line came over to give the true freshman some well-deserved congratulations on his first career touchdown catch.
While that moment is a special one for any player, it carries a little more weight for Parker. At 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, he’s hardly your average tight end. In fact, he’s hardly spent any time even playing the position.
Missouri’s staff recruited Parker as a defensive end. He was a four-star prospect at Blue Springs High School, ranking 18th nationally at the position and sixth overall in Missouri. As a senior, Parker racked up 16 sacks en route to leading his team to a state championship appearance.
When Parker made his way to Columbia for summer practices, he was asked to do something he hadn’t done before: play tight end.
Parker was a stud at offensive line in high school, earning him Class 6 First-Team All-State honors his junior year. Although he may not have much experience catching passes, his confidence suggests otherwise, stating after Missouri’s win over Florida that he has the best hands in the SEC.
“His hands have gotten a little better, and there’s trust built in now through the reps that he’s gotten,” Odom said. “That all equates to him becoming more of a complete player. He can’t just be a blocking guy, and I said the other day, someone asked, ‘What’d you like out of Parker and Sam Bailey?’ and I said they’re both [capable of] stretching the field. I gave you a hint, and we ran it today. He’s got to keep coming, because he could be so valuable in the role that he plays.”
Parker stressed the most difficult part of adjusting to playing tight end was the film preparation that went into it: “You have to know what the people around you are doing, the read keys, whether you have to run an out or in — just film study is a lot different.”
He also talked about that because of his size, he’s always ready to block. But as a tight end, he recognizes he’s got to catch the ball every once in a while — and Saturday, he got to celebrate his hard work with six points.
“I just thought about how God has placed me in the position I am, and the things my mom has done, you know, my dad just grinding for me to get where I’m at,” Parker said. “It was just a blessing.”
Another true freshman from the Kansas City area, Gicinto, had a breakout performance against Vanderbilt. He’s substantially smaller than Parker at 5-foot-9, 170 pounds. But what he lacks in size, he makes up for with speed. That was evident on a 42-yard reception late in the fourth quarter to put Missouri deep into Vanderbilt territory. He flat-out beat his defender downfield on a seam route and made a beautiful over-the-shoulder grab down the left sideline.
“Drew made a perfect pass,” Gicinto said. “It was almost as if I couldn’t drop it.”
The true freshman has played in the Tigers’ first nine contests but his output was limited, totaling just seven receptions for 44 yards heading into the Vanderbilt game. But Gicinto stepped up in Brown’s absence, leading the Tigers in receiving with four catches for 81 yards.
Both Gicinto and Parker were proud of one another and proud to rep the 816 Saturday.
“It feels really good,” Gicinto said. “It feels like we showed everybody else that our city can produce good athletes, too.”
With players like Lock, Gicinto, Parker and more from the Kansas City area, it’s fair to say the City of Fountains produces good athletes, indeed.