Commentary: Johnson, Parling developing into a special combination for GVSU

GVL / Robert Mathews
Sophomore Chris Robinson (3) and Heath Parling (12) connecting after a touchdown.

Robert Mathews

GVL / Robert Mathews Sophomore Chris Robinson (3) and Heath Parling (12) connecting after a touchdown.

Brady Fredericksen

It’s been a process.

At this time last season, Grand Valley State University quarterback Heath Parling and wide receiver Charles Johnson didn’t have much of anything. Parling was a first-time starter and Johnson was a transfer trying to find his place within the GVSU offense.

Both had their ups and downs, Parling more so than Johnson, but by the end of the season the duo had become one of the best in the GLIAC.

Now, coming off a game in which their offense scored 83 points, they look like they could be one of the top duos in all of Division II.

“The biggest thing that’s helped them out is time. These guys do a lot of stuff in the offseason – January, February, March – and also in the summer,” said GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell.

They’ll play catch and Johnson tells Parling where he likes the ball and Parling tells Johnson what routes he likes the most. Like always, the on-field reps and experience are important, but these two have used more than that to develop their chemistry.

“It developed over time. Initially, it didn’t just come and we were connected,” said Johnson, who spent his first two seasons at Eastern Kentucky University. “Plays are going to be made because he’s a great quarterback and I consider myself a pretty good receiver.”

Parling has gone from an unproven starter who caught much of the fans’ ire during last season’s 1-3 start to an All-American and team captain. He doesn’t shy away from criticism, and even after his offense scored the second-most points in school history, he dished some of his own, saying that they have to get better and do this every week.

Wait, like, score 83 points every week?

That isn’t going to happen, but when the quarterback throws for over 300 yards and four touchdowns and still isn’t happy, it trickles down to the entire team.

We’ve seen it on every level; football today is a quarterback-driven game. Parling is capable of leading this team and offense, but it’s the combination with Johnson that will set them apart.

He may not be as good as another Michigan-based receiver with the initials “C.J.” but Johnson has evolved into a true go-to guy for Parling. His 12 receptions on Saturday tied a Lubbers Stadium record, and his ability to turn those short passes in the flats into big-yardage plays has keyed this offense.

That’s the same offense that wasn’t stopped, not even once, by the Notre Dame College defense. The playing of this “defense” that I speak of wasn’t there for either squad on Saturday, but the show Parling and Johnson put on was tremendous.

They connected seven times in the first quarter alone, including four on GVSU’s second scoring drive of the night. Johnson tied Eric Fowler’s single-game record for receptions at Lubbers Stadium with 12 – they set the tone early.

“It’s just reps. The more reps we get with each other, even week by week, we become more comfortable,” Parling said of his work with Johnson.

Comfort doesn’t seem to be a problem, but Johnson acknowledges their individual talents, and as Jay-Z so famously said, “real recognize real.”

“You want to get the ball in your best player’s hands as much as you can,” Parling said of Johnson.

At the end of the day, a modest Johnson may consider Parling great and himself just pretty good, but for this team to overcome its current defenseless defense and reach the postseason, they are going to have to become one of those elite combinations.

Luckily for GVSU, they’re well on their way.

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