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|01-06-2006, 08:07 AM||#1|
Join Date: Feb 2005
Member Number: 302
Thanked 2 Times in 2 Posts
Good story, long but worth the time!
Parker makes it with Steelers
Friday, January 06, 2006
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Just as he she did after every game her son played at the University of North Carolina, Lorraine Parker hurried down to the tunnel leading from the field at Kenan Stadium. As always, she wanted to make sure she was the first family member to greet June (short for Junior), her nickname for her youngest son, Willie.
Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Willie Parker always thought he could make it as a running back -- if only someone would give him a chance. The Steelers did, and the results have a fairy tale-like quality thanks to his speed and determination.
She was no different than most moms. She had spent many days rubbing her son's feet after practice, after games, scrubbing them cleaner than a bathroom floor and attentively massaging them as if they were the hands of a pianist. Make no mistake, he was Clean Willie before he was Fast Willie, and he had the feet to prove it.
But, on this day, taking her usual spot in the runway underneath the stadium, Lorraine Parker, a nurse's assistant, discovered her son needed more massaging, more nurturing. As he walked from the field on senior day in 2003, Willie Parker had tears in his eyes, tears that were not from the realization this was his final home game at North Carolina.
They were the tears of a senior running back who did not get into the game against Duke on a day when the departing seniors were honored. The tears of a running back who spent most of the afternoon on the bench, stealing bewildered glances into the stands to his mom and dad and wondering what had gone wrong since his days at Clinton (N.C.) High School.
Earlier that day, as he escorted his parents onto the field for pregame senior introductions, Willie Parker showed his wristband to his dad. On the white wristband were the words, "I'm Gonna Make It."
As she watched her son walk through the tunnel after the game, though, Lorraine Parker wasn't so sure.
"He was crying, and I hugged him and I told him, 'Let's just close the door on all this,' " she said. "But he was upset and he said, 'Mom, you don't realize, this is my career going down the drain.' I told him it would be OK, that, just wait, the Lord will take care of it. I was just saying that because he was crying.
"But, you know what? The Lord took care of it. The Lord worked it out."
Or, as his dad, Willie Sr., said, "Here we are -- Pittsburgh Steelers."
In their glorious history as four-time Super Bowl champions, the Steelers' all-time roster is littered with great players from great backgrounds, such as Jack Ham and Lynn Swann and Franco Harris. They have had great players from small backgrounds, such as Joe Greene and Terry Bradshaw and Jack Lambert. They also had undrafted Pro Bowl performers such as Donnie Shell.
But since the time they started using the draft to build the dynasty that rocked the 1970s, the Steelers have had few players who played so little in college and performed so wonderfully in the NFL.
Carlton Haselrig is one. Ray Seals is another. Neither played football in college.
Then, there is Willie Parker.
He wasn't just a player who was bypassed by every NFL team on draft day. He wasn't some record-setting star from a Division II college who got a tryout with an NFL team and made the 53-man roster. Parker was a running back who rarely played at North Carolina, starting only five games in four seasons. He carried 285 times -- an average of 7.7 per game -- for 1,172 yards for the Tar Heels.
Best anyone can tell or will admit, his lack of playing time wasn't because of injury or bad behavior or problems with the legal system. Nor did he happen to have the misfortune of playing behind a running back who was a Heisman Trophy winner or a No. 1 draft pick (he played behind Jacque Lewis and Chad Scott, neither of whom were drafted by the NFL).
"I don't know what happened," Willie Sr. said the other day from his home in Clinton, N.C. "For all I know, it could have been Willie's fault. I don't know. He never discussed it. I left him alone."
... & found
Whatever it was, the Steelers didn't care.
And now, two years later, the rest of the NFL knows what Bill Cowher discovered the first time he saw Parker slash through a hole at training camp and flash the speed that is his signature: How did this guy not play at North Carolina?
"To this day, I'm totally disgusted he didn't play at North Carolina," said Bob Lewis, Parker's coach at Clinton High School. "I don't understand it. I asked one time for an explanation and I was never given an explanation. He's made that whole thing look so bad by doing what he did in Pittsburgh."
In his first season as a starter, Parker had nearly as many carries (255) and rushed for more yards (1,202) than he did in four years at Chapel Hill. He also became the Steelers' first 1,000-yard rusher since Jerome Bettis in 2001.
He had five 100-yard games, including back-to-back performances of 130 and 135 yards to close the regular season, and finished second to Kansas City's Larry Johnson for the best per-carry average (4.7 yards) among the AFC's 1,000-yard rushers. One of those 100-yard games was against the Cincinnati Bengals, the team that will try to stop him Sunday in a wild-card playoff game at Paul Brown Stadium.
Beyond all that, he brought a dimension to the Steelers' offense as foreign as cheerleaders at Heinz Field. In an offense built to feature power backs, Parker's speed -- he has been timed at 4.28 in the 40 -- is an anomaly for a franchise that has featured two of the biggest and most productive backs in NFL history, Harris and Bettis.
"Willie has the one thing that we never had -- speed," Cowher said. "For a team that runs the football like we would like to run the football, to be able to have a big-play player back there is a bonus. He shows that ability to do that."
Parker has nine runs of 20 yards or longer this season, four of 37 yards or longer. The longest was an 80-yard touchdown in Cleveland two weeks ago, a play that prompted offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt to remind the doubters, "That's why he's in there." Parker also has receptions of 48 and 45 yards, both on screen passes, giving him five plays of 40 yards or longer this season.
Only Antwaan Randle El, who has punt returns of 72, 72 and 81 yards, has accounted for more plays longer than 40 yards (8) this season.
"He brings that home-run threat every time," said receiver Hines Ward. "You have that threat like that, teams have to scheme for that. People keep saying they put eight or nine men in the box, but what happens if we block all eight or nine? He's going to get out and break a long one.
"That threat right there really changes coverage. A lot of teams won't go out and play certain coverages when you have a guy who can go deep like that. When you don't have a guy who goes deep, a lot of teams continue to play a lot of different coverages because they know a guy is not going to take it to the house. When you got a guy who can take it to the house, you don't tend to be as risky."
An inside job
It's not just Parker's speed that has been distinctive. Almost from the opening game of the season, he showed he can do what he was accused of not doing at North Carolina -- run inside.
In college, he was dubbed "The Clinton Bypass" by cynics who questioned his desire to run inside the tackles. The nickname irked, and, in the end, motivated Parker.
"I won't say it really bothered me, but it kind of nagged me, kind of stuck with me," Parker said. "It was bad-mouthing my name. Running inside wasn't a problem."
In a 161-yard performance against the Tennessee Titans, Parker ran through tackles and bounced off players as if he were a video figure in Madden2006. Parker is only 209 pounds, but he has an upper body that belongs on the cover of the muscle magazine -- a physique sculpted from countless hours in the weight room at North Carolina, where he was stronger than most of the offensive lineman.
His toughness surprised some of his teammates and coaches.
"I was impressed a little last year and I was really impressed in Week 1 of how well he was running inside," Bettis said. "From that aspect, yeah, I knew he was capable of it, but to see him really, really pound it in there was fun to see."
Toughness wasn't the only issue that needed to be answered.
Durability was another, if only because Parker played so sparingly in college and because he was inactive for seven of 16 games as a rookie..
But after a brief midseason lull that spawned doubts of his resiliency, Parker has finished the season more like the Clinton Expressway, rushing for 346 yards and averaging 6.1 yards per carry in the last three regular-season games.
Parker never rushed for more yards than he did in the season opener. But that didn't stop his coach from anointing him a much better back now than he was in early September.
"I think, if you look at him early in the season to where you see him now, there is no question," Cowher said. "The one thing you see, when he makes a decision, he is going north and south; you see him hitting the pile and going forward. I know there were questions as to can Willie Parker run inside. I think he has answered a lot of that doubt through the year."
|01-06-2006, 08:08 AM||#2|
Join Date: Feb 2005
Member Number: 302
Thanked 2 Times in 2 Posts
Re: Good story, long but worth the time!
The rst of the story:
Capitalizing on a break
The Steelers did not discover Parker by accident. Dan Rooney Jr., a team scout and son of the Steelers' chairman, lived in Gastonia, N.C., and his wife, Allison, was a family physician in Clinton.
The young Rooney was aware of the kid who helped lead Clinton to the North Carolina Class AA championship as a junior and the state quarterfinals as a senior. A few years later, during a trip to North Carolina to work out other Tar Heels players, Rooney and another NFL scout decided to work out Parker. They were amazed by the results.
"He had a fantastic day," his father said. "After that, I'm sitting around the home, and the phone started ringing. I'd look at the caller ID and see it was an NFL team. They wanted to know if this was where Willie was going to be on draft day."
Parker never was drafted, but the Steelers signed him as a free agent. He made the 53-man roster out of training camp, dressed for the final nine games of the regular season because of an injury to Duce Staley and made an impression when he had a 58-yard run and rushed for 102 yards on 19 carries in the season finale in Buffalo.
This year, he became the starter by default in training camp when Staley had surgery to repair a torn meniscus and Bettis' calf was injured in the third preseason game. But when he rushed for 161 yards against the Titans and 111 in Week 2 in Houston, Parker put a hammerlock on the starting position and never let go.
"I'm thankful for getting the opportunity and I'm thankful for taking advantage of the opportunity," Parker said. "It's a blessing, man. A lot of guys don't get opportunities like I did, and I just feel real fortunate to be in the situation I am -- on a good football team and getting the opportunity I'm getting today."
In the end, Willie Parker was right.
I'm gonna make it.
Sorry it wouldn`t fit on one page! Next time I`ll post the site insted
|01-06-2006, 01:32 PM||#3|
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Member Number: 86
Thanked 1 Time in 1 Post
Re: Good story, long but worth the time!
Wow, very long story, but definitely a good one. Willie's story is a great one. Whatever coach at NC kept him off the field looks like a real idiot now.
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