Not long ago, four-star athlete Mike Parker's recruitment seemed to be a two-horse race. Now, not so much.
Parker said the two schools are still in strong position. However, recent offers, most notably Arizona State, have him re-evaluating old and new options.
“I wasn't aware that recruiting would pick up,” said the ESPN 300 prospect from Nokesville (Va.) Kettle Run. “I wasn't aware that Arizona State was looking at me. I wasn't aware that Marshall was looking at me. As far as Miami (Fla.) and West Virginia, they were my one and two before.
“As time goes on, I'm just going to have to consider everything that comes into play and further my options. As far as Miami and West Virginia, they're still at my top. They're up there.”
Parker's most recent offers -- from Arizona State and Marshall -- have him thinking. While Marshall isn't expected to be a strong competitor for him, Arizona State certainly is. Parker said the school has already vaulted into his group of finalists, along with Illinois, Miami, West Virginia and Maryland. He said he plans to take official visits to those five schools after he takes his college entrance exam tests in October.
“Arizona State definitely caught my interest,” said Virginia's 229th overall prospect. “I'm definitely going to go down there and go see a game or something like that.”
The Sun Devils have only begun to ramp up their recruitment of Parker. Their late entrance doesn't seem to matter. The prospect might not know everything about the school, but he knows enough to like it.
“I'm still doing my research,” he said. “I'm online every day ... I definitely love West Coast football. I love the way they play. The Pac-12 is a spot to be.”
Still, the new school in the race has some work to do to catch the pack. The rest of Parker's finalists have already made a strong impression. Kettle Run coach Jeff Lloyd and Illinois coach Tim Beckman know each other from coaching together at an all-star event.
“They're relationship is definitely close. That's a good thing," Parker said. "It's made us close. It's really nice to have a personal connection with that type of coach, especially a coach like [Beckman].”
That connection isn't all that's working in the Illini's favor.
“They play good football,” Parker said. “I like what they're all about. They came to visit me last year before the season started. They told me they liked my style of play. I like their defense. They run two safeties. They blitz their strong safety a lot. That definitely fits me.
“Illinois, they're nice. I like their intensity and their coaches. They have a lot of interest in what goes on after football.”
Maryland is also a major player for Parker. The 6-foot-3, 196-pound prospect doesn't seem bothered by the Terrapins' 2-10 record in 2011 and some struggles this season, which is coach Randy Edsall's second at the school.
“They love to get after it,” Parker said. “They started out rough but that's all a part of football. Coach Edsall, man, he's a great coach and he's a great guy. He definitely has an interest in his player and making them better football players.
“Their facilities are really great. I like their up-to-date facilities. It's really close to home. If I did pick Maryland it would be really close to home. It's about an hour-and-a-half away.”
Parker visited Maryland in May. He still recalls a meeting he had with Edsall.
“We sat down with him and talked to him,” Parker said. “He's definitely a great guy. He's a winner. That stood out to me the most -- him and his staff. It wasn't necessarily the style they play. As far as a staff, they seem really interested in their players.”
Then there's West Virginia, the school that has long held Parker's interest. Once thought to be in the driver's seat -- or at least riding shotgun -- the Mountaineers are still in good shape.
“West Virginia is great,” Parker said. “They also play some mean football as you can see on Saturdays. They really get after it. [Receivers] coach Daron Roberts, my recruiter, he's a great guy. He's very interested in me. We have a relationship and it's steadily building. We're getting to know each other. I'm keeping in contact with him a lot. I have family in West Virginia. It's easy to see my family, my uncles and aunts [nearby].”
Parker has some insight into West Virginia that most prospects don't have. His brother played with former Mountaineers defensive back Brandon Hogan, who is now with the Carolina Panthers.
“I've only heard great things from Brandon,” Parker said. “He said they play great football and they're going to work you. They're going to work you hard and they're going to work you long. It's only for the best.”
Then there's the other school thought to be in prime position for Parker. It's certainly not hard to hear the excitement in his voice when he talks about Miami.
“Ah, man,” Parker said. “Miami is a different story, I'm telling you.”
Parker visited Miami's campus in August. Even though it was a quick trip, he left impressed, especially after a meeting with coach Al Golden.
“Coach Golden showed me around a lot, more than I thought it would be,” Parker said. “I thought it would be a lot of recruiters showing us around the school, but he spent a lot of time. It was sincere. I didn't expect it.”
Parker met another coach that impressed him. He watched game tape with defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio.
“He knows his stuff,” Parker said. “He reminds me a lot of my defensive coordinator now...He knows how to put his guys in the right spot to make plays. How (coaches) interact with their players and how they interact with their recruits definitely stood out to me about Miami.”
With five schools in the running, there's only one thing left to do before Parker makes his decision.
“My officials are coming up soon and I can't wait,” he said.
Neither can his recruiters.