SUBSCRIBE

Wade has been center of attention along Navy offensive line

Contact Reporterbwagner@capgaznews.com

Wondering why Navy is leading the nation in rushing average at 400 yards per game? Look no further than the middle of the offensive line where center Parker Wade has been an absolute warrior.

One year after losing his starting spot, Wade has become the bell cow of the offensive line, which has been nothing short of outstanding so far this season. Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper and running game coordinator Ashley Ingram have both praised the performance of Wade, who has graded out highly in every game.

“Parker has played really well. He’s played very hard and been a real factor inside,” said Ingram, who coaches the offensive line and personally tutors the centers and guards.

Wade came out of the game for two offensive plays during the season opener at Florida Atlantic. He has not missed a play since, taking every snap against Tulane, Cincinnati and Tulsa.

“It’s been a lot of fun. Last year, I didn’t play as much as I wanted. So this is my year to get all the snaps. I don’t ever want to come out,” Wade said. “The strength staff has done a great job with my conditioning. I don’t feel like I need a breather. I’ve been able to play at 100 percent the whole game.”

Wade emerged from training camp as the starting center last season and played well through four games. However, the coaching staff felt the team needed a bigger body at the position because so many opponents were employing an odd front in which the nose guard covers up the center.

Senior Maurice Morris, who checked in at 6-foot-2 and 327 pounds, was better suited to blocking a big nose guard one-on-one. Morris wound up taking over as the starting center against Houston on Oct. 8 and did not relinquish the job for the rest of the season.

“Being a competitor, obviously it made me mad not being in the starting lineup. I still feel like I played well when I was in there,” Wade said. “It kind of hurt me from a personal standpoint, but I learned some things from Mo about what he was doing to be successful. It was a good combination last year, but this year I think I can do it all.”

Ingram said the switch from Wade to Morris was not an indictment of the former’s play, but simply a matter of size difference.

“Every opponent was giving us that Bear front. We had a 330-pound center who was playing good football so it made sense to put him in there. Maurice was really good at blocking the nose guard straight up,” Ingram said “We saw a lot of even front against Notre Dame and Parker played a lot more because he’s very good at getting to the next level. We ran a lot of zone plays against Army and that is also Parker’s type of game. We just played to the strengths of each center.”

Wade, who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 280 pounds, is the smallest member of Navy’s starting offensive line. The Tennessee native played at about 270 pounds in 2016 and spent considerable time in the weight room during the offseason in order to add weight and strength.

“I didn’t want the size thing to be an issue again this season, and it hasn’t,” Wade said. “I haven’t struggled at all when I’ve been head-up against nose guards this season. I’m confident I can do the job against anybody I have to block.”

Wade will get a stiff test this Saturday against service academy rival Air Force, which has fielded an odd front defense for years. Starting nose guard Cody Gessler (5-11, 263) is actually smaller than Wade, but the Falcons may use backup Mosese Fifita (6-1, 320) more often in hopes of overpowering the opposing center.

“I have no apprehension whatsoever about Parker playing against a nose guard. He’s proven he can handle it,” Ingram said.

Wade, who lost his starting job after struggling somewhat against Air Force a year ago, is looking forward to the challenge.

“If I can get the play started – secure the snap then get some movement off the ball – that’s two or three yards right there. The fullback can run right behind me,” he said.

Ingram said Wade reminds him of Blaze Ryder, Navy’s starting center in 2015, saying they “have similar personalities and are similar football players.”

“Parker’s always had good technique and fought like heck. He’s going to play hard, compete like crazy and know exactly what to do,” Ingram said. “Parker is a coach’s son so he knows the game, understands the position. He is a very savvy type of player.”

Paul Wade was a center as well, making the Tennessee Tech football team as a recruited walk-on and playing from 1987 through 1990. The Nashville native stayed at his alma mater as a graduate assistant coach in 1991 then pursued that career at the high school level after returning to his hometown.

Parker Wade was one of the biggest kids on the team when he started youth football with the Old Hickory Bulldogs and was thus put at offensive tackle. He was later moved to guard after displaying superb athleticism and quickness.

The younger Wade switched to center as an eighth grader because the Davidson Academy middle school team didn’t have one. Paul Wade was head coach of the Davidson Academy varsity at the time, but left to become associate head coach at The Ensworth School so his two sons could attend the private institution with a reputation for top-notch academics.

Ensworth is a powerhouse in the greater Nashville area, capturing the Division II AA state championship all four years of Wade’s career and routinely producing major college scholarship prospects.

“Parker was the smallest lineman on the freshman team, but probably the most athletic and football smart,” Paul Wade said. “He’s always known what to do in terms of fundamentals and technique.”

Parker Wade was an ideal fit for the Ensworth offense, which featured the I-formation along with inside and outside zone run schemes.

“We pulled the center quite a bit. Parker was able to snap the ball and get outside as a lead blocker, which enabled us to do some unique things schematically,” Paul Wade said. “In our scheme the center has to identify the defense and make line calls. As a coach’s kid, Parker was very well-versed in recognizing formations. He broke down tape with me every night at home.”

Paul Wade, who was admittedly tough on his son, told Ingram and other members of the Navy coaching staff they would not be able out-do old dad when it came to yelling at Parker.

“I text with Coach Ingram quite a bit and talk to the coaches when we come up for games,” Paul Wade said. “It makes me very proud to hear a veteran offensive line coach like Ashley or a former NFL player like Shaun Nua talk about how tough and sound Parker is playing.”

Parker Wade credits his father for the fact he has become known as an expert technician. He enjoyed working daily in practice for the man he grew up idolizing.

“That was a lot of fun. My dad is a pretty intense guy who knows a lot about the game. It was a special experience being able to play for my dad in high school,” said Wade, whose younger brother Pryce is now the starting center at Ensworth.

Ingram recruits Tennessee for Navy and was impressed with the athleticism he saw when watching Wade’s highlight tape. Centers need the footwork and agility to reach the second level in the triple-option offense and Wade certainly fit the bill.

Wade takes pride in being a smart player who does all the little things right. He is one of the smallest starting centers in recent Navy history, but refuses to use that as an excuse.

“Being a little undersized, I feel like I need to have great technique. A lot of defensive linemen kind of underestimate me when they see me walk up,” Wade said. “If I come off the ball hard on every play and just plain out-work my opponent the whole game it makes up for any size difference.”

Wade was considering offers from multiple Ivy League schools when Navy entered the picture late in the process, around December of the youngster’s senior season.

“I looked at all my offers and asked myself which one combined the best football with the best academics. Navy was an easy choice,” Wade said. “Plus, the service piece was important. It was a great opportunity to serve my country and have a guaranteed job after graduation.”

Wade, who has service restrictions because he is color blind, is planning to be commissioned as a Supply Corps officer. He was a member of the varsity bowling team at Ensworth and reportedly dominates whenever Navy football players get together to knock down the tenpins.

“During the summer we go bowling a lot and I’m obviously the best player by far,” said Wade, who carries an average near 200. “When football is over I’m going to be hitting the bowling alley hard.”

twitter.com/BWagner_CapGaz

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad