BAGSHOT, England — As dangerous jobs go, it's not like he's a crab fisherman on the Bering Sea, an ice road trucker or even a logger. But on the football field, Preston Parker makes the deadliest catches as a kick returner and third-down specialist.
Last week on third and 7 from the Tampa Bay 30, Parker ran a sideline route toward the New Orleans bench and caught a facemask full of Saints cornerback Malcolm Jenkins.
But when you've been thrown out of Florida State, tried to resurrect your career at Division I-AA North Alabama, been bypassed in the NFL draft, won a job at a rookie tryout and now volunteer to do the dirty work, what's going to intimidate you?
Fearless is the word that has been used to describe Parker, 24, who mostly works the middle of the football field. In fact, 12 of his 19 catches this season have come on third down, including both touchdowns, and 201 of his 268 receiving yards.
"It started with special teams a year ago when you really started to see his toughness, especially returning," general manager Mark Dominik said. "That's why (coach) Raheem (Morris) put him over on defense, and he got a snap on defense last year because of how physical the kid is. And I still hear him joke around, 'Don't forget me on defense.'
"But you love that mentality of him, and then he's got a certain fearless mentality that you have to have if you're going to play inside and go across the middle."
At 5 feet 11, 200 pounds and tough as a truck-stop steak, Parker has never understood all the fuss about his physical nature.
"That's just how I've always played and how we always played where I'm from in Delray Beach," Parker said. "When I went to college and people asked, 'Do you run between the tackles?' I was like, 'What do you mean?' I didn't know what they were talking about. I was like, 'If that's what you call it, I'll do it.' It's just regular to me, just second nature. I just try to make someone miss. If that's fearless, I guess I am."
Parker is also not afraid to ask questions. At One Buc Place, his locker is next to Earnest Graham, who has become a friend and mentor. Like Parker, Graham took the hard road to a career that has lasted eight seasons. He wasn't drafted, endured being cut four times by the Bucs, played special teams, fullback — anything necessary.
"He asks a ton of questions," Graham said. "He brings up these scenarios. What if this and that. So I enjoy being able to give him my experiences, mostly off the field, and help him along.
"A guy like Preston Parker, he has no trouble on the football field. … But sometimes as a football player, you can have the same mentality in football as you have off the field. So for him, I've talked to him about being able to balance yourself off the field."
Parker's story is well-documented: three arrests involving weapons charges, drugs and driving under the influence ended his promising career with the Seminoles after his junior year. He salvaged what he could of his career at North Alabama but was bypassed in the NFL draft. He took roles from injured receiver Sammie Stroughter and kick returner Micheal Spurlock.
"I love the journey I came from. I wouldn't take it back," Parker said.
"Say I'm tired or say I have to go from special teams right to zebra, which is three wide. Or from three wide, straight to punt returns. The journey will kick in and I'll think, 'You went a long way, man, so just take it. Look how far you've come, so don't complain.' That keeps me driven."