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ACC All Access: Carlis Parker is one of the latest in a group of QB-to-WR transition hopefuls at Virginia Tech

As far as learning experiences go, Carlis Parker’s ongoing education as a Virginia Tech wide receiver hasn’t always been pretty. Aaron Moorehead has some not-so dazzling memories to prove it.

Last spring, when Tech moved Parker from quarterback to receiver a few times during practice, he immediately showed just how far he was behind the curve. Parker, who was a January enrollee last year, had a lot to pick up.

A year later, the process of turning Parker into a full-time receiver is still a work in progress, but he’s already come light years from the kind of raw talent that often left his position coach wondering if Parker had what it took.

“A year from now, I’m going to show him his film from his freshman year spring, and he’ll want to throw up all over the computer,” said Moorehead, who is Tech’s second-year receivers coach. “He’s still going to be working hard. He has a lot to learn from this point moving forward until we get to the season, but I tell you what, he’s a coachable guy. We stayed after practice (Tuesday) and worked on something and he just picked it up in about three or four reps.

“That’s what it’s all about, but last year at this time when he’d just moved from quarterback, I mean, I tell you, it was just one of those things where you just shake your head and go, ‘I hope he figures it out one day.’ You’re kind of trying to make that progress every day.”

Parker, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound native of Statesville, N.C., got a few game day tastes last season of what college life is like at receiver, where he was moved full time last August. He played in nine games, starting against Boston College, but he didn’t have any catches.

He had what could possibly be considered a pseudo-breakout in Tech’s 42-12 loss to UCLA in the Sun Bowl, when he was used on jet sweeps from the receiver spot, gaining 40 yards on six carries.

“It definitely helped with my confidence - getting that college game experience always helps,” said Parker of the Sun Bowl.

Tech is well-stocked with returning talent at receiver in the forms of Willie Byrn (51 catches last season for 660 yards and two touchdowns), Demitri Knowles (45 catches last season for 641 yards and three touchdowns) and Joshua Stanford (40 catches last season for 640 yards and a touchdown), but Parker's speed could make him a viable deep threat along with Knowles.

Parker isn’t the only Tech player transitioning from the quarterback spot. Redshirt freshmen David Prince and Hampton High graduate Deon Newsome both played quarterback in high school, but are now entering their second season working at receiver in Blacksburg.

Moorehead said graduate assistant Drew Terrell, who played receiver and punt returner and whom Moorehead coached at Stanford, is working with Newsome. Tech could possibly work Newsome at punt returner in addition to receiver.

Bucky Hodges, a 6-6, 243-pound redshirt freshman who graduated from Salem High in Virginia Beach, is trying to make a different move this spring from the quarterback spot. He’s working at tight end, where he also spent time last fall in practice. Though he didn’t make the desired impact working at quarterback during his redshirt year, his versatility is considered an asset by Tech’s coaching staff.

Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler sees some similarities in Hodges and Parker, at least in the framework that both players are sizable targets. Loeffler admits both players have a long way to go at their respective positions, but there’s potential.

“He’s like Bucky,” Loeffler said. “He’s a big, raw athlete that has all the ability in the world. What’s fun with Bucky and Carlis and those younger players is they’ve got the ability. Now, it’s just molding them and getting them to do things right and getting them to understand that all the little things matter. The difference in an explosive play is a great release, it’s the right footwork, it’s the right steps, it’s the right use of the hands. When you’ve got guys that have a chance, it’s exciting.”

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Since the turn of the century, Tech has had varying levels of success with players going from high school (and, in some cases, college) quarterback to college receiver. Here’s a sampling of players that have made the move:

-Shawn Witten, a native of Elizabethton, Tenn., played at Tech from 1999-2002 and finished with 55 catches for 610 yards and two touchdowns.

-Richard Johnson, a Baltimore, Md. native, played at Tech from 2000-04 and finished with 39 catches for 421 yards and two touchdowns.

-Chris Clifton, a graduate of Deep Creek High in Chesapeake, played at Tech from ’01-05 and finished his career with just four catches for 30 yards.

-Marcus Vick, a Warwick High graduate, played quarterback for most of his career (‘02-05) before being dismissed from the program, but he was used briefly at receiver in ’03 and finished with four catches for 82 yards.

-Josh Morgan, a native of Washington, D.C, played quarterback his junior season at H.D. Woodson High and went to finish his Tech career (’04-07) with 122 catches for 1,817 yards and 16 touchdowns.

-Ike Whitaker, a Germantown, Md. native, played at Tech from ’05-08 before being dismissed from the program, and finished with six catches for 31 yards.

-Marcus Davis, a graduate of Ocean Lakes High in Virginia Beach, moved from wide receiver to quarterback at the start of his senior year of high school, and moved back to receiver at Tech. In his Tech career (’08-2012), he had 105 catches for 1,827 yards and 13 touchdowns, but he struggled with blocking at the receiver position.

-Corey Fuller, a Baltimore, Md. native, played at Tech from 2010-12, and finished with 45 catches for 834 yards and six touchdowns while starting just eight games in two seasons on the field at Tech.

Making the switch to receiver requires getting used to not only a new position with new responsibilities, but the life looking out of the face mask is different. Getting a good read on the defense from the slot or the far outside receiver spot, while picking up new techniques required of the position, can be a challenging combination.

“It’s a completely different perspective,” Moorehead said. “Sometimes it takes them a while to get it, and there’s the (defensive) movement and what’s going on and how to get to this guy and how to get to that guy in the run game and then running your routes, ‘It’s zone (defense). I’ve got to throttle it down here. Oh, it’s man (defense). I’ve got to run as fast as I can.’ Sometimes they struggle with that. You’ve just got to continue to develop them.

“Quarterback is a whole different animal. You’re sitting back there. Most of the time, you’re not kind of in the fray. You’re just kind of back there, handing off the ball and it’s over for you, or you throw the ball and maybe you get hit, maybe you don’t. At receiver, you’ve got to go block somebody, and you’ve got to be the aggressor. Sometimes that’s part of the transition.”

Parker is all-in with his move to receiver. Of course, that’s not to say he doesn’t miss certain aspects of playing quarterback.

“I definitely miss doing some of the zone read stuff,” Parker said.

“It’s real different (at receiver). Making that transition, I would say the toughest thing is seeing (defensive) rotations and stuff like that. You’ve got to know that when you’re at quarterback, too, but when you’re at that receiver, you’ve got certain blocking assignments and stuff like that. It can be kind of hectic at times when defenses give you crazy looks.”

He said he’s gained 8-to-10 pounds since last season and feels more confident in his route-running, making powerful moves out of his breaks and working in the weight room.

“I’m a long way from last year,” Parker said. “I came a long way from last year.”

Moorehead said some of the more rewarding aspects of his job are working with players who learn through different methodologies and come from varied playing backgrounds. He’s had his hands full with Parker, but Moorehead is navigating Parker – described as a “long-strider” last season by Moorehead – through the more trying phases of the move from quarterback to receiver.

“I probably looked like this when I was a freshman in college,” said Moorehead, who played receiver at Illinois from 1999-2002 before playing five seasons in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts. “Your legs sometimes aren’t caught up to what’s going on. It looks like you’re kind of flailing all over the place, your arms are everywhere, your legs are everywhere…you look like a baby deer on ice.”

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