Lineman keeps loyalty intact

Kyle Sentkowski’s 30-yard field goal broke a 14-all tie, but the Hornets did not have the lead for long. The Cardinals scored two touchdowns in the final five minutes of the first half to take a 28-17 lead to the locker room.

Mike Cody swears he did not have an ulterior motive in calling Jake Parks last September after the UC Davis guard learned his left fibula was broken. The 2022 season ended for Parks shortly after it started.

Parks went down in the season-opening 34-13 loss at Cal. He was not told about the severity of his injury until the next day. Parks was still digesting the bad news when Cody, the offensive line coach, called.

Jake Parks had no thoughts of leaving UC Davis after breaking his left leg in the 2022 opener and missing the rest of the season.

The Sept. 3 game in Berkeley could have been Parks’ last as an Aggie. The injury gave him  time to consider his options, one of them being to play elsewhere for his final season as a graduate transfer.

The only move Parks has made this season is from right guard to right tackle. He had started at guard since 2018, when he was a true freshman and the Aggies earned a share of the Big Sky Conference championship.

Look for No. 60 on Saturday night when the Aggies come home after a 1-1 start on the road to face Southern Utah. Cody is now the Aggies offensive coordinator and is thankful to have the senior as an anchor on the line.

“It wasn’t any question for Jake,” said Cody, who was a receiver with the Aggies in 2010-11. “In this day and age of college football, it’s tough to come back because guys want to leave for another school. Jake could play at 100 schools, but he’s very loyal. He wants to finish what he started here.” 

Cody had no intention during the call last September to broach the subject of Parks’ future and did not need to do it anyway. Parks beat him to it by answering the question without Cody having to ask it.

His degree in human development gave Parks a ticket to ride out of Davis. Tackle Kooper Richardson departed after the 2020 season to join his father Kris and younger brother Kaden at Sacramento State.

By the way, human development was not Parks’ original choice for a major. He declared for neurobiology, physiology and behavior, but that ambitious major is as difficult to navigate as it is to say five times fast.

And that is for a student who does not have to juggle practices, team meetings and weekend travel with studying. Parks can speak from experience because he was that student last year – with a broken leg.

Any athlete who has had a season-ending injury can attest to the feeling of being disconnected from teammates and coaches. There is also the inherent fear of losing playing time or a starting job.

The 6-foot-3, 285-pound Parks remained connected to the team by becoming a mentor for the offensive linemen. That was easier said than done because he wanted nothing more than to be smashing people.

“It was a big learning experience for me. I had to learn a new role for myself,” Parks said. “I did what I could to help the team and the offensive line. I still stay invested in the guys. They knew I was always there.”

Even as a senior, Parks has not changed his hairstyle since going with a mullet in 2018. He had no choice because he was a freshman and the older linemen thought mullets showed they were “down and dirty.”

“It was funny,” Parks said. “I’m going to be in the real world pretty soon, so you might as well have fun with it.”

Last Saturday’s game at Oregon State was not at all fun for the Aggies, who were routed 55-7 by the 16th-ranked Beavers in their worst loss to a Pac 12 team since losing 45-0 to Stanford in 2014.

“I told him I want to be here. He told to take my time because there was a lot to process,” Parks said. “I never had a thought about leaving here. The people and the culture of the program are why I want to stay.”

UC Davis coordinates offense

Cody Hawkins did not leave the cupboard bare when he left UC Davis to become the head coach at Idaho State. Mike Cody not only inherited the title of offensive coordinator with the Aggies after two seasons as the offensive line coach, but he also got the best quarterback in the Big Sky Conference.

Miles Hastings was a first-team selection to the All-Big Sky team in 2022 after leading the conference in passing yards with 3,048 and completion percentage at 69.8 (256 of 367). Hastings threw just six interceptions, the lowest total for a Big Sky quarterback with 240 or more passing attempts. He was also picked off six times in 2021 with 152 fewer attempts.

“I am the coordinator and get an all-conference quarterback with a 70 percent completion percentage. How lucky am I?” Cody said Thursday. “(Hastings) is special. There’s no doubt about it. I’m extremely lucky.”

Jake Parks is returning after missing nearly all of last season with an injury.

Keeping Hastings healthy will be a priority when the Aggies kick off the 2023 season Aug. 31 at Texas A&M-Commerce. Hastings started the last five games in 2021 after Hunter Rodrigues sustained a concussion. Rodrigues and Hastings were expected to battle for the starting job last season, but Rodrigues left the program.

Hastings survived 11 games as the starter last season because he was protected by the offensive line, which allowed the fewest sacks in the Big Sky with 11. Hastings was sacked seven times. The Aggies will have to find replacements for two offensive linemen who earned All-Big Sky honors in 2022 – tackle Nick Amoah (first team) and center Connor Pettek (second team).

The return of Jake Parks will make rebuilding the offensive line easier. Parks was selected to the All-Big Sky first team in 2021, but the four-year starter at guard was injured in the 2022 opener at Cal and missed the rest of the season.

Mike Cody

Parks had the option of leaving UC Davis as a graduate transfer just as tackle Kooper Richardson did after the 2020 season. Richardson felt as if he was no longer wanted by the Aggies, so he entered the transfer portal and went to Sacramento State to be reunited with his father Kris, the assistant head coach for the Hornets who also coached his son at Folsom High.

Richardson returned to UC Davis on Nov. 20, 2021 for the Causeway Classic and celebrated at his old stomping grounds after the Hornets beat the Aggies 27-7 to finish 8-0 in the Big Sky. Richardson now plays for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Canadian Football League.

Cody was never worried about Parks leaving because “it wasn’t any question for Jake. Once he found out about the (severity of the) injury, he said he was coming back. In this day and age of college football, it’s tough to come back because guys want to leave for another school. Jake could play at 100 schools, but he’s very loyal. He wants to finish what he started here.”

Speaking of starting, Cody’s coaching career began in 2012 at UC Davis as a graduate assistant after playing two seasons as a receiver with the Aggies. Cody transferred from Sierra College to UC Davis because then-Aggies coach Bob Biggs promised there would be opportunities for Cody to become a coach once he was finished as a player.

Biggs believed Cody had what it takes to be a coach. And he was right.