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The easiest player to root for on the 2021 Tigers? Daniel Parker, Jr.

The senior TE changed positions, does the dirty work and is immensely likable. Also, did we mention he’s talented?

NCAA Football: Missouri at Tennessee Knoxville News-Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK

Think back, for a second, to your childhood days as a sports fan.

Before you had a working knowledge of recruiting, the transfer portal or the trade market. Back when the wide world of sports may as well have been a real-life comic book where superheroes went to battle. Do you remember the question that permeated your every back-and-forth, that told you everything you needed to know about the person with whom you were conversing?

“Who’s your favorite player?”

Regardless of whether or not you attach yourself to players over teams and programs nowadays, everyone had a favorite player at some point. Maybe you went for the quarterback with the big arm and the bigger smile. Maybe you liked the fiery outfielder who smashed taters and flipped his bat. Perhaps the physical, grinding power forward who took charges and gobbled up rebounds was more your speed. No matter who it was, everybody had one.

As for this year’s Mizzou Football team, I’ve found it pretty easy to identify my guy: Daniel Parker, Jr.

Despite his local blue-chip beginnings, DPJ is far from a conventional choice. After all, the last year of news cycles has been totally dominated by a host of players who are more likely candidates. The Tigers have the returning SEC All-Freshman QB, a burgeoning NFL prospect on the defensive line, a mega-star returning home after a year at Ohio State... hell, ask the football editor on this site — he can’t stop talking about the kicker! All compelling cases!

Still, it’s hard for me to shake just how easy it is to cheer for Parker. After all, he’s the full package: local, unselfish, charismatic and, of course, immensely talented.

While not all Mizzou fans are homegrown, every one of them ends up adopting some of the Show Me pride that comes from living in the state. Part of that process — especially at Mizzou — involves adopting local athletes as your own, especially when they choose to don black and gold. Parker, a Blue Springs native, came out of the 2018 class as a coveted 4-star defensive end. Part of the infamous “Tiger 10,” Parker was the only member of that group to choose Missouri... and incidentally one of the only ones to find sustained success on the football field. The math, then, is simple for local athletes to follow — choose Mizzou, get good at football, become universally beloved. Pretty cut and dry stuff.

However, it’s what he did after the transition to college that endeared himself to the fanbase so quickly. Before he ever took a snap as a collegiate athlete, Parker ended up switching positions, mostly because of a depth of options on the line in 2018. While the switch wasn’t made permanent at the offset, Parker saw a team need and opportunity for increased playing time and killed two birds with one stone. Efficient and unselfish? Classic blue-collar Missouri guy! The people’s champion!

Parker had his moments as a freshman, including the only touchdown of his career [side bar: Holy ****, did you realize Daniel Parker, Jr. only had one touchdown in his entire career?!? It feels like there was a period there in 2018 and 2019 where all we could ever talk about was how impressive he was as a receiver... and my guy only has one score on his card? I saw that stat and had to triple-check on different sites. Drink, feed this man some end zone touches this season. Let the man eat!], but it wasn’t until his sophomore season when the converted tight end really began to pop. Under a depressed Dooley offense, Parker still managed to snag 15 receptions for 140 yards, more than doubling his output from year one. With incremental growth in just one year at his new position (and a revamped offense on the way), things seemed destined to line up for our main man.

Then, of course, there’s the eye situation. It probably isn’t worth rehashing the whole story (mostly because it’s been told in better, more thorough detail), but here’s the TL;DR, even though it’s not TL and you SR: Parker nearly lost sight in his right eye due to a freak infection between the 2019 and 2020 seasons, a medical diagnosis that threatened his career. Rumors circulated throughout the offseason that Parker might not be back, and his return to the team was a welcome sight (hehe, get it?), especially given that the new coach/play caller/poster-in-chief would need all the receiving weapons he could get.

Then, of course, last season happened. No no, I’m not talking about COVID... that’s too obvious. I’m talking about the fact that in Eli Drinkwitz’s offense, Daniel Parker, Jr. began his next transformation from promising young pass catcher to Mauler 8200™ (feel free to use that on a shirt, DPJ, I won’t charge royalties).

While the blocking was impressive in its own right, it’s the quote about this play from the post-game that gets me all misty-eyed.

“I knew my job was to go block the alley player, and I went and blocked him. And once he was done, I thought, ‘I might as well go to the next one....’ And then I see another guy, so I went and hit him. And then number 7 felt bold enough to come test me at the end, and we all saw what happened there. That one didn’t work out for him.”

In case you didn’t watch the video too closely, let’s freeze frame on the moment where No. 7 did indeed try to test this run-blocking king.

“Night night” - Daniel Parker, Jr. to this poor soul

What did the wise man once say? “Come at the king, you best not miss?”

I could go on and on opining about the virtues of Daniel Parker, Jr., the charismatic footballing prince of Columbia, Mo., but I think you get the picture. And besides, the best part about this story isn’t written yet. We don’t know what the final act of Daniel Parker’s Mizzou career holds. Does he continue his beefy transformation into the greatest run-blocking tight end who ever lived? Does he realize his potential as a pass-catcher and become a threat in the passing and running games? Does he block a Razorback clear off the field and then fight the rest of them off with his bare hands? I would like to see it!

It would appear that going into his senior season, the full spread of options have been laid out before this homegrown, ever-evolving, would-be-tackler-corncobbing True Son. I’m fascinated to see which one he chases. I’ll be rooting for him the whole way, and you should to. After all, it’s not that hard.