Stillwater, Okla. Drop a student who hasn’t yet taken Math 101 into the middle of a Math 141 classroom full of students who already have passed Math 105, 106, 111, 115, and 121 and ask that student to finish on top and what do you expect will happen?
It’s no different most weeks for the Kansas University football team, which doesn’t have the luxury of putting its players through years of prerequisites before sending them into competition vs. athletes whose games have grown through years of drilling technique and building bodies in the weight room.
They must learn via on-the-job training, such as Saturday’s in T. Boone Pickens Stadium, where Oklahoma State overwhelmed Kansas, 58-10.
It was enough to discourage young football players into wondering whether they ever will become good enough to compete.
View a gallery of images from Saturday's game between the Jayhawks and Cowboys at T. Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
KU’s true freshman wide receivers won’t reach those depths of self-doubt, because the player who leads their position won’t let them. Just three years ago, senior Tre’ Parmalee stood where they do now and he repeatedly lets them know, he didn’t stand as tall.
“I tell them every day they’re better than me when I was a freshman,” said Parmalee, the best player on KU’s offense. “Like Steven Sims, he’s a really good athlete, a really good player, a really good kid. I stay in his ear and push him every day, because I know his potential and I don’t want to see him slack off. Same with Jeremiah (Booker), Emmanuel Moore. I try to stay in their ear every day, keep trying to make them get better.”
Parmalee, the first high school player recruited to Kansas by Charlie Weis, knows all about improvement.
KU coach David Beaty shares prayers for Oklahoma State, disappointment over KU's play
He had the best statistical day of his career Saturday, but naturally wasn’t celebrating. Nor was he sulking. He was carrying out assignments with precision, never letting the lopsided scoreboard invade his focus. Parmalee caught six passes for 115 yards, both figures career highs. Four catches were for first downs.
In six games (he missed the Baylor game with a concussion) for 0-7 Kansas, Parmalee has 26 catches for 441 yards and two touchdowns.
In his first three seasons at Kansas, Parmalee combined for 20 receptions, 174 yards and never caught a TD pass.
Nick Harwell, Nigel King and Tony Pierson were targeted the most last season.
KU entered the year without a single player on the roster with a 2014 offensive touchdown to his name. Someone had to become the most reliable player on the offense and Parmalee has been the guy. He knew his time would come.
““I’ve alwys had the vision,” Parmalee said. “If you don’t have the vision it’s not going to happen. So I’ve always had that vision since I was a little kid.”
The vision didn’t include an 0-7 record with five games as the underdog left on the schedule.
“I think about that every day,” Parmalee said. “That’s why you play the game, to win. You can’t always get caught up in the wins and losses because if you do that can take away from your preparation for the next opponent. So just go out there with your boys and your coaches and try to get better each week.”
It takes years of doing that to become the player Parmalee has become.
Most of the great athletes will find perennial powerhouses. In time, KU can win by stockpiling enough good athletes who turn themselves into masters of technique at their positions. KU can win with enough Parmalee-caliber players/thinkers/competitors becoming major contributors late in their careers. But it will take years.
“On the sideline, it was really impressive to watch Tre’ handle his teammates and make sure those guys continued to play and fight,” head coach David Beaty said. “... He’s a mature guy. He really is. He’s a coach’s son and I say that a lot, but I think it matters. He’s just a quality kid.”
Parmalee said he’s grateful for his KU coaches teaching him how to get better and to his father, Oakland Raiders assistant coach Bernie Parmalee, for football lessons that never stop.
“I played football since I was 5 years old and I was always around my dad, asking him things,” Parmalee said. “Actually, before today’s game, he texted me a long text and was telling me to have fun, how to use my hands on second-level releases and giving me little points to the game so I could perform well.”
I asked him to explain what he meant by using his hands on second-level releases and as he explained it, I pictured him doing just that to perfection on multiple plays. He’s a natural at teaching football.
“It’s basically where I’m in the slot and I have either a safety or a nickel over me and I’m running an intermediate route or a deep route and the guy jumps out to collision me and I have to use my hands and my body to leverage around him to keep in the route and get open,” he explained.
On a day in which yet another inconceivable Oklahoma State tragedy reminded everyone not to take life for granted, Parmalee discussed how he never takes football as a given either.
“The coaches last night had us all close our eyes and think back to when we were little kids on Saturday playing football in the back yard with our friends, the feeling that we had that, man, maybe one day I can make it to that level being on TV, playing in front of all those people,” Parmalee said. “That’s something that definitely drives me all the time not to not take it for granted and just look back to those days when I was like, man, if I could just make it to that stage, it would be awesome.”
Losing is the opposite of awesome, but maximizing opportunity has big rewards. If everyone on the roster gives the mental, physical and emotional effort Parmalee does on a daily basis for the entirety of their careers, KU’s football program will move in the right direction.
— See what people were saying about the game during KUsports.com's live blog.