Bob Asmussen | Parker brings the energy

May 25—CHAMPAIGN — If you miss your coffee before chatting with Corey Parker, don't sweat it. You will soon be awake.

The newest member of Bret Bielema's Illinois football coaching staff, Parker is a can of Red Bull, wrapped in a double espresso, soaked in Jolt Cola.

During a 30-minute introduction to the Illinois media earlier this week at Memorial Stadium, the former Toledo assistant kept the energy level ceiling-high the entire time.

Fortunately for the team, none of the reporters will play. The important people Parker needs to communicate with are the Illinois players and other assistants. Seems likely he will be a hit with them.

Parker is working on the defensive side of the ball, replacing David Gibbs after Gibbs left the program for health reasons. Specifically, Parker will be paired with coordinator Aaron Henry in the secondary.

At Toledo in 2023, Parker helped develop cornerback Quinyon Mitchell into an NFL first-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles.

"It was a father-son, a family relationship," Parker said. "I had to be able to own whatever his difficulties were as a player and help him continuously get better at those difficulties. A good player doesn't want to hear about his difficulties unless he knows you care about him.

"We went through every single step. The No. 1 thing he asked from me was to, 'Coach me hard every day no matter what.' That's what I did."

Different roadMost college coaches get their starts as graduate assistants, then move into full-time positions.

Not Parker.

A former player at Eastern Michigan, Parker began his coaching career at the high school level. He spent 13 years at River Rouge High near Detroit, building the team into a state champion.

He made the jump from preps to college in 2022 at Toledo.

"It was hard for me to leave River Rouge," he said. "Those players and those coaches cheered me on."

Parker's time in Michigan figures to give him an advantage in recruiting, especially in Detroit.

"I've got to find personnel that fits Fighting Illini football," he said. "I got right on the ground moving, communicating with guys I believe fit who we are, what we're looking for.

"I knew exactly the doors to start knocking on. Spending time in Detroit was my first stop."

Knows the placeIn the 2023 Toledo opener, all Parker wanted was to beat Illinois, but the Rockets lost 30-28 at Memorial Stadium.

"I was just in shock and in awe of how many people were in the stands," he said. "It was beautiful. 'This place is packed. I've got to coach my butt off today.' I was just thinking about winning."

The Rockets then went 11-3 and played in the MAC title game.

Toledo closed with a pair of losses to Miami (Ohio) in Detroit and Wyoming in the Arizona Bowl. Turns out that was Parker's last game with the Rockets, though he didn't know it at the time.

He was not looking to leave the MAC power.

"Last week, I was being great where my feet are," Parker said. "I was recruiting for the University of Toledo in Miami, trying to get some good players."

Then Bielema called and asked Parker if he would visit Illinois. But Parker still had work to do for Toledo.

"I'm a guy that believes in character over image," Parker said. "I'm a guy that believes in doing things the right way."

Parker met with Bielema, Henry and the defensive staff and liked what he heard.

"It's an honor for me to work under a guy like coach Aaron Henry and see what makes things work for him," Parker said.

Being in the Big Ten for the first time is a bonus for Parker, who will now put his high school roots and previous two seasons worth of experience at Toledo into action with the Illini.

"If you're from the Midwest," Parker said, "you want to coach and be a part of Big Ten football."