IT ALL STARTED IN KEYSER: Whiteman makes his mark in Texas
KEYSER - Just over a week ago, the Sam Houston State University Bearkats defeated the South Dakota State Jackrabbits 23-21 to win the FCS football national championship. On the field that day, Keyser native Parker Whiteman and his wife Susana proudly hoisted the championship trophy, as the duo serve as the team’s head strength and conditioning coach and nutritionist.
It’s the perfect marriage, in two ways. Perfect for the couple as their partnership allows them to work together daily towards a shared goal. Perfect for Sam Houston in that Parker and Susana were just what the doctor ordered; one of the final pieces of the puzzle to help the Bearkats realize their dream of winning a national championship.
The story is chronicled in an article by Shehan Jeyarahah for Dave Campbell’s Texas Football website. In a nutshell, Sam Houston coach K.C. Keeler had decided enough was enough. Keeler knew his team needed to be tougher, more physical, and healthier to seal the deal.
Enter the Whitemans in their roles as strength and conditioning coach and nutritionist. Parker had developed quite the resume, having served as an assistant strength and conditioning coach at West Virginia University, the University of Michigan, and most recently the University of Arizona. Susana had been a dietician at Liberty University.
But work in college football is a journeyman’s endeavor. Positions change as coaches come and go and bring their own people along. For Parker, the goal has always been to become a head strength and conditioning coach, to put his own personal mark on a program. Might he also be able to work in unison with his nutritionist wife?
“Up until that point I had always been an assistant, never really running my own program. I had opportunities in the past but I just felt like I really wasn’t ready. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side,” Parker detailed.
According to Whiteman, “Sam Houston State called me and asked if I was interested in interviewing. Head coach K.C. Keeler and I hit it off, and I interviewed with the entire staff. They really liked my philosophy as far as having a holistic approach to strength and conditioning, and being more about moving, and being able to transfer what we do in the weight room onto the field.”
The more they talked, Parker talked about his wife’s work as a dietician and how great it would be if they could come together and work together.
“That was December, and he called me back and said he could get me on and could get her on part-time. That was a dream of ours to be able to work together, and God really laid the foundation there,” Parker stated.
Sam Houston already had a very successful, winning program. In fact, they were second only to North Dakota State and Alabama in winning success, but just couldn’t get over that hump to win a national championship.
“I think it was an issue of physicality and needing to do the little things it takes to win at that next level. The previous strength coach had worked with other sports, and I was brought in just to work with football, me and my wife Susana,” Parker detailed.
“We devoted all of our time to football and really developed deep relationships with the players, to the point that we tell them we love them all the time,” Parker stated. They know that they are our family, they know that they can call us. I tell them that when they come to a Division 1 football program that they’re going to spend more time with the strength coach than they are their parents, teachers, and girlfriends.”
What Sam Houston found in Parker and Susana was a pair so perfectly suited for the job. What the Whiteman’s found in Sam Houston was a team of players perfectly suited for wanting to be the best, both in terms of character and work ethic.
“We’ve been blessed with probably the most high character team I’ve ever been a part of, in terms of having great kids that do the right thing, have perseverance, and are just generally good guys, and that love football,” Parker explained.
There’s also something to be said of the fact that Sam Houston has a roster overwhelmingly comprised of Texas natives, something Parker sees as an advantage.
“There’s something to be said about dealing with kids from Texas. You grow up hearing how awesome Texas high school football is, you read about Friday Night lights, and a lot of that is true. These kids live and breathe football. Their facilities in high schools are better than most colleges, and mentally, the kids are on a different level when they get to us,” Whiteman explained.
“Even physically, “I don’t have to start quite as low with these kids as I did kids from any other state I’ve been in,” Parker detailed. “They’re already developed to a point that I can advance them pretty quickly. It’s pretty unbelievable how they develop kids in Texas.”
Together, Parker and Susana have helped the Sam Houston State Bearkats advance to the pinnacle of a national championship. For Parker, reaching the top with a program he can call his own has sparked reflection back and to where it all began - Keyser, West Virginia.
“This past week, I started to think of all the people that have helped me get to this point. I’ve been calling them and just telling them thank you for everything they poured into me and helped me develop as a man. It’s definitely taken a village. So many people from Keyser opened my eyes to where I needed to go,” Parker explained.
“One of those people was Coach (Tom) Preaskorn, my high school coach at Keyser. He was one of the first people that turned me on to having a good work ethic on a consistent basis. As time went on in high school, the more I fell in love with the weight room,” Whiteman explained.
“Scott Furey was inspirational in high school, he’s one of the guys I called. I admire him, he’s had a big influence on a lot of kids that came through there, not just Keyser, but the entire county and area,” Whiteman stated.
Parker enjoys a strong connection to the Keyser football program as his brother in law, Derek Stephen, is head coach for the Golden Tornado. That connection may have began in his own KHS playing teams, but grew greatly in work he did with the program after graduation.
“From 2000-2004, I would come home from Shepherd in the summers and train myself and at the same time train all the high school kids. We would call it the Whiteman Off-Season Program, we even made tee shirts. We made it fun. That’s where I really gained my leadership skills, between training high school kids and having an influence on them. It’s where I learned my coaching voice and what worked and what didn’t,” Parker explained.
At Shepherd, the influence of the Rams strength and conditioning coach Pete Yurish led to Whiteman sparked the interest for the field to be his chosen career.
There’s a generation of former Keyser High School players, some of them coaches now, that are glad Parker Whiteman found his passion as a strength and conditioning coach. Whiteman’s lessons stay with them today as they train the current crop of Golden Tornado athletes.
Those lessons have also been implanted on football players at West Virginia University, the University of Michigan, the University of Arizona, and now at Sam Houston State University, home of the FCS national championship Bearkats. It’s a proud, but still growing legacy.