- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- DeVante Parker is an ACC newcomer who has wasted little time announcing his arrival to the league. The Louisville Cardinals senior crashed the preseason all-conference team as a third wide receiver, this despite the ballot allowing for just two picks at the position. But in a conference with arguably the nation's most decorated group of receivers, Parker figures to be hard to ignore.
Parker's laid-back demeanor off the field belies the spectacle that accompanies a player who is referred to by his teammates as a "freak" -- or, as he prefers, "Spiderman."
"Me or the real one?" he cracked when asked about the nickname. "I got called Spiderman my freshman year by one of my older teammates. It was Mike Evans, No. 33. And I've been keeping that name since then."
A 40-yard-dash timed as fast as 4.39 helps him get away with it. So, too, does a 36.5-inch vertical. And after hauling in 855 receiving yards and matching the school-record for touchdown receptions (12) during his final year playing in the American Athletic Conference, Parker is anxious to see what he can do playing for new coach Bobby Petrino and his pass-happy attack, saying that the new offense is "more fun," and that the last staff "always put their foot on the brake; they didn't want us to score anything."
"He's got the combination of size and strength," Petrino said of Parker. "He can really control his body and make different catches in the air, but the thing that excites me as much as anything is his ability to run after the catch. He can catch a six-yard route, five-yard route and accelerate and get to top speed very quickly. He's a special talent."
Parker said his personal goals for 2014 are "possibly" 1,000 receiving yards, along with 15 or more touchdowns. He wears a bracelet given to him by tight end Keith Towbridge that reads "DSBG" -- Don't Settle, Be Great. And he is excited about the possibility of playing with new quarterback Will Gardner, whom he surprisingly said throws a harder ball than former Cardinal signal-caller and recent first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater.
Whether that has had any effect on the rest of the receivers is unclear, though Parker's upbringing suggests it is a welcome challenge for the Louisville native.
Parker moved in with his grandparents at a young age, as they lived in a nicer part of town than where he had been living with his mother. The move ended up paying huge dividends on the gridiron.
When Parker was 5 or 6 years old, his grandfather would take him to the backyard and teach him how to properly catch a football. The throws were purposely toward the outside, so as to force the youngster to learn to use his hands more. The games of catch would often extend indoors, with a young Parker diving all over the concrete basement floor for passes. Remarkably, Parker says he never so much as jammed a finger as a child.
Attending college 15-20 minutes from where he grew up has been everything he expected through three years.
"It's how I envisioned it," Parker said. "I knew [my family] would always be right there by my side, no matter what. They've been supporting me since day one."
And with Parker's final year coinciding with Louisville's ACC move, the 6-foot-3, 208-pounder is excited to show that he belongs among a tier of pass-catchers like Jamison Crowder, Rashad Greene and Tyler Boyd.
He is happy to say goodbye to all of the past questions about the Cardinals' schedule strength, too.
"It means a lot to us. When we went to the league, that's a higher level of competition than what it used to be," Parker said. "And just all the teams we play against, we'll be able to show the world what we can do with that type of level of competition."
2dDavid M. Hale
2dDavid M. Hale
2dDavid M. Hale