By MATT RAWLINGS
Of the Keizertimes
Isaac Parker was the head coach of the McNary High School football program from 2012 to 2014 and led the Celtics to the postseason in all three years of his tenure.
Kyle Bonn got the chance to play for Parker when he made the varsity team in 2013 as a sophomore. He then earned a starting spot on the offensive line in 2014.
“It was about more than just football, Bonn said about playing for Parker in high school. “It was about building relationships and developing character.”
“The way that (Parker) coached made us excited to compete with each other. It kept football season really exciting and he kept me looking forward to what was coming up next.”
But Bonn didn’t get the chance to have a senior year with one of his favorite coaches. In the beginning of 2015, Parker left the McNary program to take a job as an offensive line and run game coach for Lewis & Clark College.
However, after spending the last four season apart, both Bonn and Parker will have the opportunity to reunite this fall.
After having a standout season in his final year at McNary, Bonn signed with Willamette University to continue his education, as well as his football career. He played the last three seasons for the Bearcats under Glen Fowles.
But after a 1-8 season in 2018, Fowles and and the university parted ways, leaving the head coaching position vacant.
With Parker’s success at Lewis & Clark, combined with his connection to Willamette — he played for the Bearcats from 1998 to 2001 and was a two-year team-captain — it was an easy decision for athletic director Rob Passage to offer Parker the job.
And Parker was more than happy to accept the offer.
“We are very excited to have Isaac returning to Willamette to lead our football program,” Passage said. “Not only does he bring outstanding teaching and coaching experience, he also adds a tremendous passion for building community within the program, the university and Salem.”
Before his days at McNary, Parker was an assistant coach/offensive coordinator at South Salem High School from 2007 to 2011, so making a return to the Salem-Keizer area provoked a sense of joy in the new head coach.
“I’m really excited to be re-engaged with the (Salem-Keizer) community. I created a lot of connections in my time coaching here,” Parker said. “The only school I would have left Lewis & Clark for is Willamette.”
Parker isn’t the only one excited about his return to coaching in Marion County.
“It’s really great to get him back for that senior season that I missed out on in high school,” Bonn said. “As a team, I’m excited to see us become, not only great football players, but also a great band of brothers.”
Parker has his work cut out for him as he his taking over a program that has lost 17 of their 18 games over the last two seasons. However, he is no stranger to helping a losing program develop a winning environment.
Lewis & Clark was coming off a winless season the year before Parker set foot on campus. The team also went through each of the 2015 and 2016 seasons without a victory. But when Parker was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2017, the program started to experience real change.
In his second game as the OC, Parker led Lewis & Clark to a 40-21 victory over Pomona-Pitzer. It was the most points the Pioneers had scored since 2014 and their first win since 2013.
Two weeks later, Lewis & Clark defeated Willamette 24-21 for the first time since 2000 to claim the Wagon Wheel traveling trophy.
Even though the Pioneers still had losing records in 2017 and 2018, Parker played a big role in the culture shift at Lewis & Clark and hopes to do the same thing with his alma mater.
“When I played here, (Willamette) was considered a perennial contender. And I don’t believe that returning to that mindset is far off,” Parker said.
Part of changing the culture of a program is having seniors buy in to what your are preaching, which is why having a guy like Bonn — who will be competing for a starting job on the offensive line — is crucial to help Parker get his message across to the rest of the team.
“Getting the opportunity to get that fourth year together is fun and exciting,” Parker said. When you have a culture change or a new approach to how you do things in a football program, the senior class can be a hit-or-miss, so having someone who has been in this position with me before and understands the value of his role is huge.”
“The biggest thing about Kyle is that he is a high effort guy, which will take you far no matter what. He always gave it his all, which, as a coach, that is what you need and is one of our values as a program.