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‘Are you surprised?’: Derek Parish growing into UH’s defensive cornerstone

UH senior defensive lineman Derek Parish has tallied five sacks in Houston’s first three games of the season. | Courtesy of UH athletics

UH senior defensive lineman Derek Parish has tallied five sacks in Houston’s first three games of the season. | Courtesy of UH athletics

Despite a heartbreaking double overtime loss against Texas Tech on Sept. 10, one bright spot shined on the field with a career day by senior defensive end Derek Parish.

The Pearland native registered 11 tackles on the day, one shy of his single-game best of 12, along with an American Athletic Conference record 6.5 tackles for loss and  4.5 sacks and a forced fumble.

An impactful performance worthy of being referred to as “the single greatest defensive performance I’ve ever seen” by UH head coach Dana Holgorsen was shadowed by the darkness of defeat, a loss in which the Cougars’ fought their way back from down 14 points on the road and squandered a three-point lead with 37 seconds left in regulation. 

A member of Sack Ave, the group consisting of the Cougars’ dominant defensive line last season, Parish has well represented and carried the name of the brand on his back as he became the face of the group.

“He just plays with relentless effort,” defensive coordinator Doug Belk said. “He’s one of the guys who is a standard in the defensive unit. Just what he’s been able to overcome the last couple of weeks has been even more impressive with having surgery on Thursday … and just being dominant at the point of attack.”

In the week leading up to the Texas Tech game, Parish suffered a broken finger and opted for immediate surgery, the quickest option to line him back up for the trip to Lubbock.

A process of quick decisions and timetables, teammate senior linebacker Donavan Mutin praised Parish for his dedication leading him to the quickest return to the team.

“Are you surprised?” Mutin said. “I’m not surprised at all. That’s him. I told you Derek is a warrior. You’ll never meet another dude like him.”

Mutin sees Parish as a unique character on and off the field, highlighting his competitive nature in all walks of their daily lives.

“Whether he is playing football, lifting weights, running or doing extra anything, he doesn’t want to lose. He doesn’t want to be outcompeted,” Mutin said. “They don’t make too many like him.”

A cornerstone of the Cougars’ defense, the best performance of his career took a backseat in Parish’s mindset after the deflating loss.

“After the game, I wasn’t even really worried about the stats,” Parish said. “I was worried about that last play that I could’ve made because that could’ve changed the game.”

A leader on defense, Parish emphasizes the impact his teammates and defensive line room have on him and his play.

“We’re all competing for that top spot but we all love each other in the process,” Parish said. “We always have fun together on the field regardless of who’s making the plays, and we’re all happy for each other regardless. I think that’s why our room is so great because we feed off each other.”

Despite recording no sacks in UH’s home opening loss to Kansas Saturday, Parish’s dominant start to the season still has him ranked first amongst all AAC defensive players in sacks with five while ranking eighth in tackles.

Sitting at 1-2 overall with one last non-conference matchup at home against Rice this weekend followed by the first conference game of the season against Tulane, the Cougars are still in prime position to clean up their miscues and discipline in hopes of making a run at returning to the AAC Championship game for a second straight season.

Three games into his last ride as a senior and a veteran on this team, a long season moves forward as Parish looks to continue being the best version of himself in hopes of replicating and exceeding the best performance Holgorsen had ever witnessed from one of his players.

“I don’t want to stick that tear out, but it made me happy because that’s a coach I respect a lot, and hearing him say that made me wanna go harder for him as a head coach and do a little bit more for the team.”

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