If you are Lugoff-Elgin head football coach Matt Campbell, you know the routine. A player starts out as a tight end, fills out and is moved a couple steps inside to the interior offensive line.
That was the scenario which played out for Campbell, who was a starting tight end at the University of South Carolina before being moved to guard in what became a seven-year NFL career.
Campbell, who is entering his fifth season at the L-E helm, has been the perfect mentor for Demon rising senior Parker Clements who started his high school career as a tight end before being moved to left tackle last season. After the usual adjustment period which comes with making a position switch, Clements got the hang of playing with his hand in the ground last fall. So much so, in fact, that by this past spring, the 6-foot-6, 270-pounder was entertaining a revolving door of colleges seeking his services following the 2019 L-E football season.
Wearing a plain white T-shirt while sitting in a chair in Campbell’s office following an off-season workout, Clements rattled off the 13 schools which have offered him a scholarship with probably more on the way. The most recent came from Virginia Tech which, along with Louisville, brought his ACC suitors to two. In the Palmetto State, Furman, Wofford and Coastal Carolina have issued offers as have East Carolina, Georgia State, Appalachian State along with both Western Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky, among others, for now.
It is quite an impressive list for a young man who is more than seven months removed from having undergone surgery to repair at ACL tear in his right knee sustained in the closing minutes of play in L-E’s final game of last season against Blythewood.
This past spring saw a revolving door of college coaches making their way into Campbell’s office with most of them spending time sitting down and talking to Clements in order to get to know him better and vice-versa. For some teenagers in this position, the process can get overwhelming and can even become a chore. Thus far, the personable Clements has enjoyed meeting with coaches, setting up unofficial and official visits while discussing his collegiate plans.
“A little bit, but it’s still fun,” he said when asked if the succession of meetings can get tedious. “I know sometimes the recruiting process can get a little busy and a little stressful, but it’s still fun. I’m getting into it and going places.”
Clements made a name for himself prior to the start of his junior season by attending a summer camp at the University of South Carolina which included coaches from other schools watching, Campbell said of when the ball got rolling for the former L-E baseball pitcher. The movement only became more pronounced in the months which followed.
“Parker went to USC camp and opened a lot of people’s eyes,” said Campbell. “You can coach a lot of things, but it’s hard to coach a kid to become 6-foot-6. His athletic ability is what it is. People nowadays look so far ahead in recruiting that they’re trying to project what they’re going to do. Parker has followed their projection plan. He’s done everything he’s been asked to do and they have seen that growth.”
As he walked across the basketball court at L-E’s Wellness Center, Clements was asked about having started his high school days as a two-sport athlete. Saying he enjoyed both baseball and football, the latter won out for one major reason.
“I never really had a favorite. I tried to stay neutral when I was playing both sports,” he said with a smile. “I tended to like football better because of the aggressiveness. Baseball’s not really a contact sport because you don’t get to hit somebody. Football is legal hitting and I went after it.”
As a freshman and sophomore, Clements was a tight end for the Demons and was still getting adjusted to his lengthy frame. At the time, Campbell and L-E offensive line coach Dr. Mike Armstrong were content with having someone with Clements’ size lining up outside an interior L-E line which, in 2017, boasted college signees Seth Branham (Mars Hill), Wyatt Campbell (South Carolina) and Malik Harkness (UNC-Charlotte). When that trio graduated, the line needed to be rebuilt. Enter Parker Clements.
“Coming in,” Campbell said, “Parker was a big, long lanky kid. We always knew he had the opportunity to put on more weight and, honestly, to get more coordinated. He was still growing into his body.
“After his sophomore year, we sat down and had a conversation with him about his chance to play big-time college football and that we thought his best opportunity to do that would be on the offensive line because, right now, there is a big need for long, athletic kids. The conversion was easy because Parker put in the work to get there.”
“When my coaches started putting it in my brain and it started making sense to me,” Clements said as to when he started thinking playing football in college could be in the cards for him. “I started getting more and more attention. That really opened my eyes that it could be a possibility.”
The move to tackle necessitated that Clements pack on more pounds to his long frame. For someone who, by his own admission, said he always had a high metabolism and could shed pounds easily, it meant eating more and spending more time in the weight room.
Blessed with size, quick feet and athleticism, Clements made the shift from tight end to left tackle. Being right-handed, though, he had to learn an entirely new way to move. Even for someone with his skills, it took time to get comfortable in his new surroundings.
“I’m a right-handed guy so when I moved to left tackle, I had to switch my footwork. It actually took a little time. I had to get used to it and I practiced on my own in getting into the stance. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is,” he said with a smile.
“(It was) probably about three or four games into the (2018) season when I was starting to feel good about myself. As a team, we were a little rusty going into it those first couple games.”
What Clements lacked in experience, he more than made up for in desire and effort. As affable and approachable as he is off the field, things change once the pads are on. “His mindset was always there. He has a great mindset once he gets on the field. He has a nasty demeanor there which is critical to play that position,” Campbell said.
And like his head coach, once Clements was moved from a skill position to one in which he blocks for the backs and protects the quarterback, his stock soared. The transition --- on a smaller scale --- is reminiscent of what Campbell went through after leaving USC and working out for NFL teams and moving to offensive guard.
“Obviously, I have first-hand knowledge of it. You going from being an average tight end who is a good player, but once you make that transition to offensive line, you become athletic,” Campbell said with a smile. “To find an offensive tackle who has Parker’s length, who can bend, has great feet and is athletic, that’s a diamond.”
Clements said he placed his trust in Campbell and Armstrong, also a former USC lineman, when it comes to helping to guide him through the recruiting process. He has taken unofficial visits to the schools which have extended offers to him and still has all five of his official visits in his back pocket. He will begin taking those in the fall and said he could make a decision shortly thereafter, but he will weigh all his options. “I haven’t thought it that far through,” he answered as to when he might make a verbal commitment.
What college coaches see in Clements is a young player with a high ceiling who has many of the tools needed to be a success at the next level. They would like to see him come to campus weighing between 270 to 280 pounds so that their strength and conditioning coaches can add weight and muscle while building Clements up the way they feel is best for all concerned parties.
“Parker works his tail off. He has a great work ethic,” Campbell said. “They don’t want to bring him in at 330 pounds and then, they have to trim him down to get him back up. They can bring him in and get him on their nutritional plan, get him in their weight room and build him into what they want.
“I think he has a very high ceiling. Once they get him on that nutritional plan … right now what they are doing at the college level with these guys with the supplements, what they have them eating where they tailor their diets to them, he’s going to be 315 pounds.”
Being courted by so many programs could lead to some high schoolers having their heads in the clouds and thinking they may have “arrived.” That is hardly the case for Parker Clements who understands what it is all about and knows his journey is still in its early stages.
“There’s always something to prove,” he said. “You can always get better … you always play your hardest. There’s always room to climb. You can always work on something. Even guys in the NFL, they’re always working on something. They always have something to prove.”