LAWRENCE — Tre’ Parmalee did his best to explain himself, but the question had left him stumped. KU football coach Charlie Weis was sitting in Parmalee’s home and waiting for an answer, and Parmalee couldn’t muster a good one.
This was an in-home recruiting visit — but this wasn’t necessarily about persuading Parmalee to come to Kansas. That was more or less a lock. No, this was about proving a point.
Parmalee, then a senior at Bishop Miege, had spent his childhood on the Notre Dame sidelines during Weis’ tenure in South Bend Ind. His father, former NFL running back Bernie Parmalee, had worked on Weis’ staff at Notre Dame and later alongside him with the Chiefs. And if that wasn’t enough, Weis’ son, Charlie Jr., had practically been Tre’s best friend since middle school.
“If I couldn’t get him,” Weis would say later, “that wouldn’t have been very good on my part.”
But back during the in-home visit, Weis was stuck on one question. Parmalee, who had just led all players in the Kansas City area with 82 catches during his senior year, was set on being a defensive back. The only other Division I school that had shown serious interest, Northern Illinois, wanted him as a defensive back. And that seemed like the quickest route to college playing time.
Weis, though, was unconvinced.
‘So, let me get this right,” Weis said to the younger Parmalee. “You win the award for best receiver in the area, and you want to play DB?’ You want to explain that one to me?”
Weis paused for a moment.
“And there’s no answer,” he says.
Nearly six months later, Parmalee is on campus at KU, his first two weeks of fall camp in the books. Weis’ recruiting pitch is in the past, but its contents appear prophetic. The undersized receiver from Bishop Miege — the one few schools wanted — has become one the most impressive freshmen in camp.
On Saturday in a practice that was open to the public, Parmalee scored on three long plays — a short pass in which he ran past the second-string defense and two returns during special-teams work. At 5 feet 10 and 168 pounds, Parmalee could, perhaps, still pass for a 16-year-old as he walks through the KU practice facility. But his speed and fundamentals have stood out in his first few weeks on campus.
The Jayhawks feature a deep and experienced receiving corps — including seniors Kale Pick, D.J. Beshears and Daymond Patterson — so Parmalee faces an uphill climb to get on the field at receiver. And a redshirt season may not be out of the question. But for the moment, that’s just more motivation for Parmalee.
“Throughout my whole career of football,” Parmalee says. “I’ve always been the guy that’s underlooked because of my size.”
Much of that childhood was spent observing the Weis system at Notre Dame. Weis estimates that Parmalee slept over at the Weis home around “200 times” while the two families were living in South Bend, and Parmalee and Charlie Jr. made a habit of using the Notre Dame campus as their own personal practice field.
“When I was over there at the house,” Parmalee says of Weis. “He always just took me in as his own kid.”
After Bernie Parmalee took a job with the Chiefs before the 2010 season, the family moved to Kansas City. And Parmalee spent the next two seasons tearing up the East Kansas League. But even then, college coaches had doubts.
“A lot of schools came to me about my size,” Parmalee says. “They were wondering if I could withstand the punishment and stuff like that. And a lot of schools said they didn’t think I was fast enough for a receiver.”
Parmalee says he respected those opinions, but they certainly added some fuel. Maybe if they had known that his father, a future NFL running back, had a similar physique coming out of high school, they would have taken a second look. But they didn’t, and that’s fine.
“I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder since I was young,” Parmalee says.
As a matter of philosophy, Weis, at least publically, says he’s not planning on redshirting any freshmen. That will be a decision that comes down to playing time and numbers. If a freshman doesn’t get off the bench during the first four games, the staff will reassess the situation then.
In other words…
“If I need Tre’ Parmalee in the first game against South Dakota State, he’s playing,” Weis said. “And that’ll just get him better for next year.”