WHITEWATER — When JT Parish caught a 46-yard pass from Zach Oles in the second quarter, Oles stepped into the throw and delivered a perfect spiral into a wicked wind.
As the ball hung in the air and Parish ran under it, he was draped by a defensive back but he came down with it.
The Parish catch was a display of the evolution the junior has made since his days as the speedy target playing for the Cambridge Blue Jays. Parish, who graduated from Cambridge in 2016, made his mark as a sophomore in 2018 with long touchdown catches against UW-Oshkosh and UW-La Crosse.
Parish has become a threat in the intermediate passing game, he should be opening up opportunities for Ryan Wisniewski and Derek Kumerow, who headline the top receiving group in the WIAC. To this point, the offense hasn’t lived up to the 41.6 points per game scored in 2018, but the Warhawks began to resemble that output in their 38-0 victory against UW-Stevens Point on Saturday.
Despite catching fewer than two passes per game, Parish finished the season with seven touchdown catches and as a first-team all-WIAC selection.
This season, he’s established himself as a more regular target in the intermediate passing game catching at least two passes per game with only one touchdown to show for it.
“His first year, he was really vertical and people started noticing who he was,” Bullis said. “To me, his confidence and competitiveness and physicality to make those plays with people draped on him comes down to great discipline; great mind discipline to be able to stay focused on what’s there.”
Parish may have been overlooked as a thin, 6-foot-1 sophomore when UW-La Crosse lined up across from him in man coverage and he ran right past the defender on a slant route and caught a pass before sprinting 81 yards for a touchdown. The following week, Parish caught two touchdown passes against UW-Oshkosh. The first was an 82-yarder and the second was a 76-yarder.
Parish showed off his top speed on both plays, but the physicality to make the catch before running in the first touchdown against the Titans was the initial indication as to what was to come.
“Seeing him go across formations, there’s no doubt he’s developing himself to not just be a vertical guy, but a guy that can catch a ball anywhere,” Bullis said.
In the Concordia-Moorhead game, Parish shielded a defender and caught a first-down pass that set up a touchdown.
The big play in the UW-Platteville game was the 46-yard pitch and catch, but Parish made a catch for 13 yards on a 3rd-and-6 in the red zone. The Warhawks settled for a field goal — which was missed — but it was Parish’s catch on third down that kept the offense moving.
In the third quarter against the Pioneers, Parish made an 18-yard catch on 3rd-and-3 from the UW-Whitewater 19-yard line.
When UW-Whitewater moderates its turnover problems, the offense will be a force once again. And when it does, a complete passing attack will be a crucial piece to finishing off drives and putting up points.
Outside of the top three targets, the Warhawks add in Sam Delany and Josh Ringleberg as slot receiver types to continue to show off their depth of talent.
“Some of the physical catches that our wide receivers made (against UW-Platteville), Kumerow with those back-shoulder throws was beautiful,” Bullis said. “Rings (Josh Ringleberg) had guys on his back when he made a catch. ...
“That’s a really talented group and we continue to be excited about them.”