The battle for the starting nickelback spot is one of the fiercest at WSU training camp right now, and nickelback coach Roy Manning is loving every second of it
LEWISTON, Idaho – The battle to replace the Bulldog is in full swing.
Two days into Washington State’s annual fall camp sojourn to Lewiston, the fight to fill Parker “Bulldog” Henry’s shoes at the starting nickelback spot might just be the hottest position battle in progress.
In one corner is Hunter Dale, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound junior from the suburbs of New Orleans who’s been running with the first team defense, and who, during Saturday’s practice, made a highlight reel-worthy diving interception of a Luke Falk pass.
But in the other corner, senior Kirkland Parker lurks dangerously.
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He’s the more experienced of the two, having backed up Henry at nickelback last season. He’s had his shining moments in camp too, and Friday was his day. On WSU’s first practice in Lewiston, Parker picked off a Falk pass meant for Renard Bell on a corner route, then followed up with his own diving interception against backup quarterback Tyler Hilinski.
Who will ultimately prevail?
“Heh heh heh, it’s pretty tight right now, I’m gonna be honest. I love it,” nickelbacks and outside linebackers coach Roy Manning cackles and rubs his hands together gleefully. “Kirk(land) has played the position in the past and Hunter is new to the position as of this spring, so both guys are somewhat starting at the same starting point. And they’re both doing a really good job.”
Dale and Parker bring different attributes to the position.
At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, Parker has the long, lean physique of the Division I-level basketball combo guard he was before he walked on to the football team at Blinn Junior College in Texas.
To pursue his football career, Parker turned down an opportunity to play basketball for Mark Few at Gonzaga and took a chance on himself.
Basketball was his first love, and because of it, he only played football during his freshman and senior years of high school, which meant he had limited film to show college football recruiters.
Giving up basketball was a tough call, Parker says, though he adds philosophically, “But life gives you whatever else, you take it. Thank God for Blinn Junior College.”
Parker redshirted his first year at Blinn. Then, in 2014, he had 17 tackles, two…