Eagles' Parkey the latest of a crop of kickers from Jupiter, Fla.
Rookie Cody Parkey's success can be traced to the work ethic he developed, coming from a long line of kickers in his hometown.
THE COMMUNITY park in Jupiter, Fla., serves as a sprawling sports complex, packed with soccer and baseball fields, basketball and tennis courts. The fields don't feature bright-yellow uprights, but you could still sometimes stumble upon a small group of young men there, kicking and punting footballs.
To them, the park is most valuable for its abundance of towering light poles. An exercise in pinpoint accuracy and elevation, clanking a football off a pole, of course, poses a more formidable test than booting one between uprights stationed 18 1/2 feet apart.
Years ago, after a recordsetting tenure at Notre Dame, but long before he retired as the NFL's third all-time leading scorer, Jupiter local John Carney kicked at light poles while preparing for his rookie season. He later passed on the drill to a protégé named Eric Meng, who eventually imparted it to the area's next crop of up-and-coming kickers.
An eighth-grader when he started working with Meng, Eagles rookie placekicker Cody Parkey has taken aim at those light poles many times since. Apparently, it's become the thing to do, somewhat of a tradition even, if you're a big-time kicker from Jupiter, a town that has produced several.
"I know when Cody comes to town," Meng said, "because he calls me up and says, 'Hey when can we go kick? I'm coming in.' "
Parkey, the baby-faced 22-year-old who has quickly turned an Eagles position of doubt into an afterthought, is one in a long line of kickers from his hometown. In the 30 years Charlie Persson led Jupiter High's football program, seven Division I kickers passed through. That doesn't even include Carney, three times an All-Pro, who attended a nearby high school.
Of the 64 kickers and punters in the NFL today, two are Jupiter High grads - Parkey and Matt Bosher, the Atlanta Falcons' fourth-year punter. Something in the water down there in Palm Beach County?
"Some people have quarterbacks. I've got kickers," said Persson, 61, who retired as Jupiter High's coach in 2011. "Between the kickers and pro golfers, it's quite a place."
Parkey, who grew up playing travel soccer and basketball, got his start in football as a sixth-grader at the Pop Warner level. Then a self-described "short, chunky kid," Parkey, believe it or not, played linebacker and left guard.
Extra points were worth two points, so Parkey gave it a try. As it turned out, his big soccer leg translated pretty well to kicking a football high and straight. Three consecutive years as a teenager, he won the annual Punt, Pass and Kick competition held on the field before Miami Dolphins games.
Before Cody reached high school, his father, Doug, reached out to Meng, another Jupiter High grad who had already coached the touted Bosher. Meng, now 40, kicked in a couple of NFL training camps last decade, including an Eagles camp in 2002. He became a mentor to Parkey and his older brother, Doug Jr. Separated by a grade, the brothers split duties for the high school team, Cody handling kickoffs and longer field goals.
"Some of my assistant coaches used to say on kickoffs, 'Let's just put Cody out there and let him kickoff by himself, because none of his kicks will be returned,' " Persson said. "I didn't have the moxie to do that. But he'd kick it out of the end zone and there was no field that could contain him."
Parkey, pegged by ESPN.com as the nation's top kicking prospect in the class of 2010, committed to Auburn as a junior. As a college freshman, he bided his time behind senior Wes Byrum, the hero of that season's national championship game that Auburn won over Chip Kelly's Oregon Ducks. Parkey kicked off 35 times that season, but "improved dramatically" between his freshman and sophomore years, according to former Auburn special teams coach Jay Boulware.
Boulware, now an assistant at Oklahoma, this week recalled the first game of Parkey's sophomore season. After somewhat of a line drive on his first kickoff, he booted his second attempt over the end zone and through the uprights.
"That's not normal," Boulware said with a laugh. Kickoffs then, the coach noted, were still taken from the 30-yard line. "The fans just absolutely loved it. They started calling them Parkey bombs."
Parkey, whose 69 touchbacks last season led the FBS, has long displayed a strong right leg. Through five NFL games, he's recorded touchbacks on 18 of his 32 kickoffs. His kickoffs average distances of 69.7 yards, according to Pro Football Focus, five more than the website lists as Eagle Alex Henery's average last season with the Eagles.
After nailing field goals of 54 and 53 yards in the preseason finale to beat out Henery for the Eagles job, Parkey is 10 of 11 on field goals in the regular season. Only New England's Stephen Gostkowski (51) entered Week 6 with more points than Parkey (48), who is 2-for-2 from 50-plus yards.
Each of his kicks - in games and practice - is charted in a notebook Parkey keeps, a method he learned from Boulware. On his lone miss, a 38-yarder in Week 2, he notated that he rolled his hips too much and rushed the kick. On the 36-yard game-winner that same night - a kick converted twice because of a late Indianapolis timeout - he "finished through" from almost the same spot as his miss.
"The kid has tremendous work ethic," Meng said, "and wants to correct any mistake that he makes as fast as possible and learn from them."
Meng still speaks with Parkey regularly, even going through weekly game reviews. He leads what amounts to a support system of Jupiter kickers the rookie has at his disposal. Bosher, a workout partner of Parkey's in the offseason, texts frequently. Carney, who has parlayed his 23 years of NFL experience into work as a kicking guru based out of San Diego, touches base every now and again, sometimes sending motivational messages.
These resources came in handy when Parkey, who went undrafted, readied for his first pro training camp and especially during the whirlwind couple of weeks after the Colts traded him to the Eagles midway through the preseason.
"I think it definitely helped in terms of going into the NFL, kind of knowing what to expect, [them] saying, 'Hey, every day's going to be a competition. No matter where you go, expect to play. Give them a reason to keep you,' " Parkey said. "So, still to this day, even though I'm the only kicker out here, I hold myself to that standard. If I miss a kick, I get really frustrated with myself, because I know I'm better than that."
Parkey's focus and work ethic have stood out to Eagles punter Donnie Jones, also the team's holder. The kicker's early success is, in part, a product of his preparation and the veteran-like manner in which he carries himself, said Jones, in his 11th pro season.
In the special teams' room, Parkey is 12 years younger than both Jones and long snapper Jon Dorenbos. Jones said everyone in the locker room, from rookies to 10-year vets, is viewed the same, so the age disparity doesn't really come up.
But Parkey did recently inadvertently make Jones feel old. The rookie realized that when he was a teenager and winning those Punt, Pass and Kick competitions before Dolphins games, Jones was Miami's punter. A fun fact for everyone except maybe the 34-year-old Jones, who smiled when the topic was brought up again this week.
"I've been really excited about the talent he has and the way he works," Jones said. "I think if he keeps that up, he could have a very long, successful career."