The Houston Cougars’ program was in a remarkably different state in September 2018 when compared to September 2022. In between those dates involved a transition from the Major Applewhite to the Dana Holgorsen era, as well as an accepted invitation to join the Big 12 Conference. One of the constants spanning that timeframe was defensive end Derek Parish.
Parish played his first snap as a Houston Cougar in Week 2 of the 2018 season. In that 45-18 win over the Arizona Wildcats, the young freshman recorded his first sack — jumpstarting a promising collegiate career in Southeast Texas.
Four Septembers later, Parish trotted out as a captain of a preseason ranked Houston team fresh off a 12-win season — with sights set on a conference championship and New Year’s Six appearance. Rather than riding off into the sunset with that storybook ending, the defensive end endured a more brutal route to conclude his time at Houston. While Parish launched the 2022 season on an All-American pace with 5.0 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss in his first four contests, before that fourth game reached halftime, everything screeched to a sudden halt.
In the late second quarter of a 34-27 September victory over crosstown rival Rice, Parish found himself sitting on the field, disheartened, as trainers investigated his arm. Less than 48 hours passed and the news Houston’s coaching staff feared most became official. Parish tore his bicep, spoiling a tremendous senior campaign for the team captain. He accepted the fact his days suiting up in red and white were over, and it was time to shift focus to the next goal — the 2023 NFL Draft.
“As soon as that bicep tore, it was ground zero,” Parish said. “I’ve been staying down and building up and taking it day-by-day.”
It was an unfortunate situation for the Pearland, TX native, who was in the midst of a monster season. Parish earned the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week honor after a 4.5-sack, 6.5-TFL performance in Week 2 at Texas Tech — complete with 11 tackles and a forced fumble. Opposing offensive lines, award voters, and scouts were quickly familiarizing themselves with his name before he suddenly disappeared from the field for the final two-thirds of the regular season. Still, the work Parish put on film in those four games positively influences his NFL Draft stock.
“I think those four games really helped me out considering I didn’t take a play off,” Parish said. “I can stand on those four games that I gave it my all.”
During the injury rehab process, Parish decided to add the fullback position to his repertoire of skills in order to become a more versatile, sought-after prospect. Several star collegiate defenders, such as former Northern Illinois All-American defensive end Sutton Smith and Penn State standout linebacker Jason Cabinda, tested out the waters of fullback in the NFL. Parish only played one snap of fullback at Houston — as a blocker in the 2020 New Mexico Bowl — but he evaluated his skillset and determined his talents were well-aligned with the position.
“I kind of had a theory, even before the torn bicep — that was always an interest,” Parish said on his desire to experiment at fullback in addition to defensive end. “I feel like I can run and catch and get yards just like anybody else can on the offensive side.”
The newly-acquainted fullback was a full-go in receiver drills in Houston’s Pro Day, perfecting crisp patterns and demonstrating a viable set of hands at the climax of each route. Speed was evident throughout his Pro Day showing as well. Parish clocked in at 4.56 seconds in the 40-yard dash, 6.76 seconds in the 3-cone drill, and by posting a 4.09-second 5-10-5 shuttle, he was a tenth-of-a-second away from tying free safety Gervarrius Owens for the fastest time among all Cougar participants.
“In my opinion, it was pretty simple,” Parish said on adding offensive attributes to his arsenal. “You look at a route on paper, you go run it on the field. There’s different details and stuff, but I think my comprehension of the game can suffice for that. You give me a route — I’m gonna go run it. I’m gonna go catch the ball.”
But it wasn’t just speed and hands on display for the 6’0”, 241-pound hybrid player. Parish demonstrated the most strength numbers at Houston’s Pro Day with 27 reps on the bench press while also leading all Cougars with a 37-inch vertical jump. His ability to stand out athletically in a multitude of areas makes him one of the more intriguing prospects in this upcoming draft.
“I know I’m not a first-rounder or so. I’m gonna get in any way I can,” Parish said. “You’re getting somebody who’s willing to work, somebody who’s willing to win, and somebody who’s willing to claw for that inch. I don’t think anybody’s gonna die by this game like I will.”
All 32 NFL teams were represented at Houston’s Pro Day last Thursday, but with different teams come different evaluation standards. Several team scouts have different ideas for Parish regarding where he fits at the professional level. But rather than adhering to one player archetype, Parish decided to take on the role as a football polymath on the day of his NFL job interview.
“I’m better than a Swiss Army knife,” Parish said. “I got some platinum on me.”