WNY Athletics

Parks, N-W more determined in 2018

There may not be another student-athlete in western New York that’s more grateful to take the field this week then Jordan Parks.

The Niagara-Wheatfield senior had one of the scariest off-seasons imaginable after his mother found him motionless on the kitchen floor in early February.

After discovering he had an irregular heartbeat, Parks underwent surgery at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester four days later to implant a heart rate monitor.

“I was definitely having doubts about this season,” Parks said. “I was thinking about the worst things that could happen; not being able to play my senior year. I’ve played football all my life, it would have been hard.”

But playing football was the furthest thing from anybody’s mind.

“Your senior season is big when you’ve been playing football all your life but it is not the end all be all,” Niagara-Wheatfield coach Russ Nixon said. “We’re talking your life.”

But in May, Parks fears were put to rest as he was finally cleared for physical activity and could return to being the Falcons’ starting quarterback this fall.

“I’m so thankful,” Parks said. “I’m just glad to be out here with my guys.”

Parks’ teammates have noticed that he now has a new appreciation for the sport he loves.

“He’s a little more determined now,” N-W senior Jake DeWolf said of Parks. “He’s trying to do something with a season he almost lost.”

DeWolf and the rest of the Falcons know that Parks can take them a long way in 2018.

Parks led Niagara-Wheatfield to a 3-6 (2-4 Class AA) record last season as he ran for almost 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns while throwing for 325 yards and four touchdowns.

The dual-threat quarterback is entering his second full-year as QB1, after starting six games under center as a sophomore.

“He had time (in the pocket) last year,” Nixon said. “If teams bailed out on the pass he could hurt them with his legs.”

With Parks’ athleticism, Nixon hinted that they may have the senior line up at more than just QB this year.

“I guess you’ll have to watch and see,” Nixon remarked. “If you limit your athletes to just one spot and don’t use them to your fullest capabilities that’s on you as a coach.”

Park’s production was accompanied by 725 yards and 10 touchdowns from tailback Josh Brown and DeWolf, who averaged almost six yards a carry and scored three touchdowns.

Nixon credited much of that success last year’s strong offensive line led by Justin Stickney, Jake Ambrosia and Bryan Lucinski. The trio along with Brown have graduated.

Unfortunately for the Falcons, the offense’s success was often muffled by a disappointing defense that gave up 256 points last season.

Part of the problem was a lack of depth on the defensive line.

“We had some holes in the middle of our line and teams were able to run up the gut on us,” Nixon said. “If you can run up the middle you don’t have to do much else. We got into some shootouts.”

But the Falcons have been working to improve on the back end of the defense this offseason too.

“We lacked a lot of discipline last year,” DeWolf said. “Throughout the offseason, we’ve been working on our discipline; getting our coverages down and making sure everyone is in the right place.”

The Falcons will be a more experienced and older team, especially at skill positions, as they move down from Class AA to the Class A1 division this year.

DeWolf will be joined in the backfield by classmate Nick Stott.

6′ 1″, 180-pound wide receiver/linebacker Noah Mixon opened the eyes of the coaching staff last year. They’re looking for more in 2018.

“(Mixon’s) fast and physical,” Nixon said. “He’s not afraid of contact and can make plays along the sideline.”

Basketball player James McVay is coming out for football this year. Nixon hasn’t decided where he’ll line up the 6′ 5″ 300-pound senior, but with his size and athleticism the coach has a lot of options.

The Falcons are hoping that Chris Gordon and Griffin Cornwall, who are up from the JV, will take on big roles this season.

In the past, Niagara-Wheatfield’s goal was to hold their own against their opponents, but as he enters his sixth year with the program Nixon is looking to take the next step.

“In years past the expectations were to show up and compete,” Nixon said, “but with this group of guys the expectation is to come through and win those games.”

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