PORTLAND — As an under-recruited, undersized linebacker at Skyview, Parker Henry learned the only thing separating him from success was to out-work everyone else.
That’s what landed him a walk-on spot at Washington State and, eventually, a starting spot during its football program’s momentous turnaround.
And it’s those experiences fueling the start to his next chapter as the first-year linebackers coach at Portland State, Henry’s entry into what he hopes is a long career coaching college football.
“I’m not under any illusions that anything is given to you in this life, especially in the game of football where dedication is what separates people as a player and a coach,” Henry said.
Consider how he was hired at PSU.
After a season as the running backs and linebackers coach at Skyview, Henry expressed to Vikings head coach Bruce Barnum in December his desire to break into college football. In the weeks and months following, he continued to follow up with Barnum — a fellow Vancouver native who got his coaching start at Columbia River High School — until he started volunteering for the team. And kept showing up.
“I pretty much stayed in his ear,” Henry said.
Eventually the program hired him to a paid position.
Though he was never offered, Henry was recruited by Barnum out of high school. Now, Henry will be the one doing the recruiting in Vancouver, and perhaps mine the next hidden gem, like himself, from Clark County.
To Henry, his interactions with Barnum left a good impression, dating back to when Henry was a senior at Skyview.
At the time, Henry was an all-state running back, rushing for 2,191 yards and 31 touchdowns as the Storm reached the Class 4A state title game.
Throughout the recruiting process, Henry said, the charismatic Barnum was a straight shooter. When other coaches danced around where they stood on Henry, Barnum did the opposite.
“In the recruiting process there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors … and he was always very straightforward with where they were at with me,” Henry said. “Whatever he said was what happened with Portland State. I didn’t end up getting a scholarship, and I wasn’t surprised by it.”
Instead, the 5-foot-11, 205-pound Henry decided to attend Washington State and be a walk-on for the Cougars. After spending two seasons mostly on the special teams, he would make 11 starts at linebacker for the Cougars in 2015 and 2016.
Henry and Barnum would cross paths on the field in college in 2015. Washington State hosted the Vikings for its season opener, a 24-17 PSU upset that elicits winces from Henry, along with the rest of Cougar nation, while being etched in Portland State history.
Barnum makes sure to bring up the win, which was his first game as PSU’s head coach. Each of the coaches on staff at the time received a game ball, many of which are proudly displayed in their offices.
In a special teams film session last week, coaches played a blocked field goal from the game, and made sure to alert players that “Coach Henry was on the field.”
In order for the former WSU team captain to realize he wanted to make a run at a career in coaching, Henry needed some time away from football.
Battered from persistent injuries his senior season that quelled the idea of making a run at pro football, and seeking a mental break from “the only thing I’ve really done my whole life,” Henry took a trip to Europe, where he backpacked to eight different countries — a luxury the year-round college football schedule did not previously afford him.
It’s there, and the year spent working for a football scouting agency, that he started to yearn to be closer to the game. Now in the thick of preparation for football season, he’s embraced the long work days.
On a recent day of training camp, Henry and fellow coaches arrived on campus for a workout at 5:30 a.m. and didn’t leave until 9 p.m.
“We didn’t feel like we worked,” Henry said. “That’s the beauty of it. I think if I would have worked a 15 hour day somewhere else I would have been pretty pissed, but I was ready to get back up and go again this morning.”
He’ll be recruiting, too, tasked with scouting the Bay Area and, indubitably, Vancouver.
At Skyview, Henry is a success story that still lives on. Head coach Steve Kizer is convinced Henry will have a successful career in coaching for one reason: Henry makes it really hard to turn him down.
“You can’t outwork Parker,” Kizer said. “That’s a pretty good trait for college coaches.”
For kids like junior Cooper Barnum, one of Bruce Barnum’s two kids to come through Skyview’s football and baseball programs, Henry is an inspiration.
“Parker Henry is his hero,” the Vikings head coach said.
Henry is passionate about sticking up for an area that he feels is under-recruited, and perhaps overlooked.
“I’ll always stand on the table for Vancouver kids,” Henry said. “We’re finally starting to get some respect. When I was coming out and lately we kind of get lost in the shuffle as not being in Portland and not being in Seattle. That’s an area that’s been really slept on … a lot of kids come out of there and surpass expectation that other people had.”