Kaleb Parham has a love for the game of football that can be attributed to many things.
The Peoria native is a freshman at Central College in Pella, Iowa, playing nose guard for a program that is the fourth-winningest NCAA college football team since 1975.
At 6-foot-3, 290 pounds, Parham’s size alone may lead one to believe he was destined to do battle on the gridiron.
But his size is not his best feature as a football player — or a person. Many around Parham believe he is an exceptional individual with a heart of gold.
Central’s head football coach, Jeff McMartin, said he believes Parham exemplifies the kind of person he wants playing for his program.
“For a guy his size, he moves really well,” McMartin said. “He’s got good feet; he’s athletic. He’s somebody who just has the right demeanor. He loves the game of football and loves to compete. He’s willing to play hard and give you everything he has.
“Kaleb is an expressive young man. He’s easy to get to know and great to talk to. He’s a great guy.”
Parham loved Central the second he visited the school. As a person who values family very highly, he knew Central would be a good fit.
“The whole campus had a real family vibe to it, and the coaches extended that even more,” Parham said. “They really made me feel like I was going to be part of a real family and not just a football team.”
Central’s success as a football program was no secret to Parham, but not only did he not shy away from it, he welcomed it. He was looking forward to the challenge of playing on a consistently successful program.
“It brings me a little more confidence,” he said. “I know I’m going into somewhere that knows how to win and how to succeed. I know they’ll prepare me to do just that.”
McMartin acknowledged Parham as an important part of its defense, and as a freshman, he is featured in the team’s “Two Deep” system. Central utilizes two players at each position defensively and subs them in and out to keep players fresh during a football game’s grueling events.
He sees Parham as a possible piece to the program’s future on the defensive line.
None of this early success or praise comes as a surprise to Kory Parham, Kaleb’s father.
“I think Kaleb understands that there is no moment that is bigger than him,” he said. “He has this saying: ‘Onto the next.’ For him that’s just whatever the situation is; he’s not going to dwell on the bad or negative side of it. He’s always going to stay positive or optimistic. In doing so, he’s going to carry that into his walk of life.”
Kory Parham played football for 23 years, including 15 professional years in minor league football. He also worked for the Arizona Cardinals for nine seasons in public relations.
Parham has been around football his whole life, and in following his father’s footsteps, he fell in love with the game at a young age. He started playing when he was 5 years old and said his father has been a huge part of his football career.
“When I started to really enjoy (playing football), I think he started to really enjoy that I liked it,” Parham said. “He really was my cheerleader.”
The family aspect of the game looms largely in Parham’s head. Growing up in a family-oriented household and watching his father play for so many years drew him even closer to the game.
“Having a team and building relationships with people is probably my No. 1 thing in life,” Parham said. “So, being a part a big group of guys that pretty much everyday bond together and are really truly a family is what makes me enjoy and love football.”
Parham was not always the outspoken person that his head coach and teammates are now used to. Only through his development as a young man has his personality become more extraverted.
“When Kaleb was younger, he was just sort of a quiet kid,” Kory Parham said. “He would just kind of sit in the corner. As he started to develop his personality, he became more of a quiet leader. He would be vocal at the time that he felt he needed to be, and along with that he knew he needed to be a leader. As a leader, you have to show examples, and he would do just that.”
The transition from high school athletics to college sports is a tough transition for many, and for Parham, it was even more difficult. His freshman season at Central was canceled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“He’s had to overcome a lot,” McMartin said. “He’s had to be a bit of a visionary and say, ‘You know what, it’s not always going to be like this. It’ll get better.’ It hasn’t been anything like what a normal year is like. He missed a whole freshman year of football. He’s making it up now, but he’s had to be patient, so I think that’s been the real challenge he’s had to deal with.”
While he was rightfully disappointed, Parham saw the season’s cancellation as an opportunity to get closer with his new teammates.
“Going from high school to college is a big step, and them canceling (the season) was almost a blessing in disguise,” Parham said. “It gave us more time to bond and prep. I think the people who used that time wisely really benefited from it.”
McMartin said Parham’s transition to collegiate football has been pretty good so far, but he’s looking forward to seeing Parham get even better.
“He goes against a lot of big offensive lineman, and it’s nice that he has the size to go toe to toe with them,” McMartin said. “He’s a first-year player, so he’s learning. The game is different, the speed is different, the physical nature of guys is a little different, and he’s growing into that. But he’s helped us out a lot, and he’s done a really good job so far.”
Kory Parham recognizes his son’s ability to keep himself from failing. He said one of his best attributes is recognizing where he is best fit. He knows his son will do whatever it takes to succeed at Central.
“He knows there are goals that are set ahead of him that he’s trying to achieve,” he said. “Along with that, he’s a true student of the game. He sees what goes on around him. He’s fine-tuning everything he sees to become a better athlete, player and teammate.”
Parham credits his smooth transition to college ball to his alma mater, Sunrise Mountain High School.
“Sunrise Mountain did a really good job preparing us to be adults and good men, which I think really helped once I got to college and understood how it was going to be,” he said. “I was already prepared for it.”
Parham is majoring in business management at Central. In the long run, Parham wants to be a firefighter, but through the love he has for his family and the family-oriented mindset his parents instilled in him from a young age, he is driven to use his major for something bigger.
“I came to college to get my business degree to help my dad,” Parham said. “He’s starting a general contracting business. And my mom is trying to become co-owner of a medical finance company. They’re both trying to run a business, so I just kind of figured why not play football and also get a degree so I can also help my family out.”
The connection Parham has with his family is evident. Kory Parham believes Kaleb’s future is bright. He is beyond prideful in his son’s achievements.
“I’m really honored and proud as a parent of my son,” Kory said. “When he was growing up, a lot of people would say, ‘Oh, you’re Kory’s son.’ After watching him over the last four years, I’m now proud to say that I’m Kaleb’s dad.”
“He’s transcended not only as a player but as a person as well. I love the fact that people gravitate to him and look at him as a solid, down-to-earth guy that is willing to help anybody. He genuinely just cares about people.
“His biggest thing is just always trying to do the right thing.”