Parker Coley is a key piece in the puzzle as Sterlington seeks to rebuild its defense this fall.
Playing mostly defensive end as a first-year starter, Coley tallied 49 tackles with two sacks and eight sacks as a first-year starter.
Coley and another converted defensive end, Jordan Doaty, will join holdover Colin Foy in the starting linebacker trio.
Coley’s athleticism made him a natural candidate for the move to linebacker following the graduation of Cole Jones, who led the team in tackles the past two seasons.
“Parker is probably one of our better athletes,” Sterlington coach Lee Doty said. “He can really run, and he plays a lot bigger than his size because of his strength. I think he’s going to be excellent on the blitz because he’s fast enough to get around the edge. We are looking for him to have a big year for us.”
Coley, who was also utilized as a situational linebacker last season, has embraced the position change.
“Linebacker is more exciting. I just feel like you can get more into the game than you can at defensive end,” Coley said.
With several defensive linemen showing promise late last season, the Panthers were able to move Coley to his more natural outside linebacker position.
“Our defensive line was young last year,” Coley said. “We expect them to be ready this year. We have a lot more size up front this year.”
Doty plays to make full use of Coley’s versatility. He is expected to see spot duty on offense as a tight end and H-back, and will again handle the punting duties. Coley averaged 37.2 yards on 31 punts, 13 of which were downed inside the 20-yardline. Despite booming a season-best 72-yarder, he struggled with inconsistency at times.
“Parker has a major league leg,” Doty said. “If he would work a little more on his feet and steps, he would probably be one of the top five punters in the state.”
Doty has been pleased with Coley’s approach in the weight room this summer.
“Parker has had a great summer. In fact, he has improved to the point where he is one of our leaders,” Doty said. “I am anxious to see what he is going to do at linebacker.”
Of course, the COVID-19 virus pandemic has changed the landscape of high school sports nationwide. Coley has seen only a few of his teammates since schools were closed in March.
“We practice with six groups of 12. When we go in the weight room, we have to wear masks. All of the guys in my group have been showing up for the most part,” Coley said. “It’s been weird, but we will do whatever we have to do to play football.”
Coley doesn’t even want to think about the alternative.
“It has definitely crossed my mind a few times, but I try to block it out,” said Coley on the possibility of the season being postponed, shortened, or even worse, canceled altogether.“Every time somebody says, ‘Y’all might not even have a season,’ I just say, ‘Don’t say that.’”
Coley has already experienced the disappointment of missing out on his junior baseball season. Sterlington was denied the opportunity to defend its 2019 Class 3A state championship when the season was halted just 10 games in.
“I just want everything to get back to normal,” Coley said. “I want us to be able to play in front of our fans, and play all 10 regular season games.”
Coley’s defining moment came in the 2019 Class 3A state championship game when he bashed a three-run triple in the bottom of the first inning, sending the Panthers on their way to a 4-2 victory over South Beauregard. The clutch hit earned Coley the game’s MVP award.
Last week, Coley played for Team Louisiana in the WWBA World Series in Atlanta.
A 3.6 student, he plans to major in pharmacy while continuing his baseball career at the collegiate level.
Coley’s older brother was also involved in a historic play for the Panthers. Tanner Coley was in on the tackle as Sterlington denied Madison Prep’s 2-point conversion attempt in the closing seconds to preserve a 28-27 victory in the 2016 Class 2A state championship game. The memorable play helped the Panthers clinch their only football state title.
As he was for most of Tanner’s games, Parker was in the stands that December evening.
“I started going to Sterlington games when I was in elementary school,” Coley recalled. “No doubt, I was one of those kids that could not wait to be a Panther.”
He hasn’t been disappointed.
“What a lot of people don’t understand is the games are just such a small part of playing football,” Coley said. “Being in the fieldhouse, the bus rides, the pregame meals — those are the things I will probably miss the most.”
Sterlington returned to New Orleans for the 2018 state finals, dropping a 59-47 shootout to Eunice in the Class 3A championship tilt. During Coley’s tenure, the Panthers have also reached the quarterfinals twice, dropping a pair of one-point decisions in 2017 (15-14 to Richwood) and 2019 (39-38 to Jennings). As far as Coley is concerned, the only thing missing from his football career is a ring.
“Even my sophomore year when we made it to the ‘Dome and lost, we weren’t satisfied,” Coley said. “Coach (Jason) Thompson and coach Doty have really set the program standards high.
“Making it to third round has never been our goal. We are never satisfied unless we win the championship.”
Despite heavy losses in the offensive and defensive backfields, Coley expects the Panthers to continue their success this season.
“We have an entirely new backfield on offense, but I don’t think we are going to miss a step. Defensively, I think we are going to be just as good if not better,” Coley said. “If we have a season, don’t doubt us. I think we have as good of a chance of going to the ‘Dome as anybody.”
Coley has done his part to carry on the Panthers’ winning tradition on the gridiron and the diamond. Hopefully, prep sports will resume soon, and he will have the opportunity to build upon his legacy.