The senior has gone from kicked out of practice for being reckless to a two-time captain, an All-Pac-12-caliber safety -- and one of the Huskies’ top students. “I’m really proud of Sean,” Steve Sarkisian says. “It’s amazing how mature he’s gotten.”
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
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SEATTLE – Sean Parker was standing on the sidelines next to Steve Sarkisian watching the Huskies’ punt-return team practice.
As another boot went skyward Tuesday morning, the senior co-captain and his coach traded laughs.
A routine moment at yet another practice? Not to Parker and Sarkisian.
They haven’t always been able to trade chuckles while at UW. They know how far they’ve come in their player-coach relationship. They know how much Parker has grown from a kid into a man during his four, supremely rewarding years at Washington.
“Sean and I have had our moments,” Sarkisian says of the safety that will make his 28th consecutive start for the 19th-ranked Huskies (1-0) on Saturday against Illinois (2-0) at Soldier Field in Chicago.
“A couple training camps ago, I had to send him down to the other end on his own to kind of regroup his thoughts.”
Two summers ago, Sarkisian was on the Husky Stadium field screaming at Parker during a preseason practice. He was sick of the intense safety recklessly blowing up his teammates with big hits during practice, so he removed him from it. He sent Parker to a far corner of the field, far away from his 100 teammates.
And so, so far away from where Parker is now.
|“As I got older I began to realize I am that much closer to getting a degree from the University of Washington, so take advantage of all your opportunity and be a stellar athlete in the classroom, as well. Always compete and don’t ever give up in there, too.”
When I brought this up to him Wednesday following UW’s latest workout, Parker smiled sheepishly.
“Yeah, I remember,” he said, almost sighing. “It was heat of the moment. I just got too carried away.”
Now he is one of Washington’s indispensible leaders -- the exact opposite of destructive to the Huskies.
He’s grown into being known across the conference for hard hits on opponents now. Last year his teammates named him captain of the defense, as a junior. The appointment humbled him. Then the league named him as an honorable mention for the 2012 All-Pac-12 team.
Last month, the Huskies voted Parker as their co-captain again. He’s become a coach on the field, instead of the object of the coach’s anger off a far corner of it.
Now, as Sarkisian says, “he’s the guy coaching that guy not to make the same mistakes” he once kicked Parker out of practice for making.
“I’m really proud of Sean, with everything he came from to where he is today,” Sarkisian says. “He’s on track to graduate. He’s an All-Pac-12-type performer for us at safety; I think he will be by the end of the season. He’s a playmaker. He’s got an intimidating factor in the back end. You know he is going to hit you if you come around there. And he just does a great job conveying my message, which is really important.
“He’s been hearing my message for four years now. The things that I think are important to me and to our program, they are now ingrained in him. They are a part of him now, too. So when there are those adverse times on the field he can convey that messaging as if we were in a locker room and I was giving that message.
“I never doubted him.”
Even when he had to banish him.
“THE PEDESTAL IS HIGH”
Parker has done nothing at UW more than he has matured. And the fact isn’t lost on him.
Three years ago, studying was an inconvenience for Parker that got in the way of playing football and socializing.
Today he realizes he’s seizing an opportunity many his age don’t get: A paid-for education from one of the top public institutions in the country while playing for one of college football’s most storied programs.
He admits he wasn’t exactly focused on that when he first arrived to UW as a wide-eyed teen.
“You come in as a freshman and you want to see what college offers you. So I was more worried about outside of the classroom,” he said.
“As I got older I began to realize I am that much closer to getting a degree from the University of Washington, so take advantage of all your opportunity and be a stellar athlete in the classroom, as well. Always compete and don’t ever give up in there, too.”
This past spring quarter Parker had his name hung onto the wall outside Sarkisian’s office for having one of the top 10 grade-point averages on the team.
“I was really proud. I was proud of myself,” Parker said. “I am always confident in myself. When I put my mind to it, I can do anything.
“The pedestal is high. I always try to strive for those high goals.”
When I asked when he first felt the empowerment that he could do whatever he puts his mind to, Parker said: “When I felt how I was here on a full scholarship, which I am blessed to have, and I was fortunate to have football help me, as well, to make connections.
“I realized the classroom was key, because you can’t play football forever, you know? You always have to have a Plan B. And this is a great place to have a Plan B.”
Sarkisian marvels over Parker’s U-turns in attitude and approach.
“Sean’s been unbelievable, he really has,” Sarkisian said. “He’s been a great citizen in our community. He’s been a great student. His GPA from the first day he got here until today has gone up and up and up and up.
“We have the top-ten GPAs for every quarter, and I post them outside of my office so everybody sees it. Senior year, this is the first time he’s made the top-ten GPAs on the team. So I think it shows the maturity and the growth a young man can have from 17 years old to 21, 22 years old.
“I’m really proud of him.”
Though off track as a freshman and sophomore, Parker said he’s always believed.
“I was always confident. I was always confident in my ability and in my potential,” he said. “And when it sprouted, when my time came, I seized the opportunity.”
He is on track to graduate next spring with a bachelor’s degree in American Ethnic studies. He proudly adds he is trying to finish a sociology course of study, as well.
“I like working with kids,” he says of his thoughts on his post-football life. “I’m thinking about coaching, or helping out kids in whatever I can do.”
Parker’s evolved, mature outlook is apparent when I asked him last month about his first impressions of new Husky Stadium and the 83,000-square-foot football operations center that opened Aug. 19.
I was expecting, “Wow, the locker room is huge. The TVs are awesome. What a place!”
Instead, Parker said this: “It’s world class. It’s a world-class design.
“I’m proud of the workers who dedicated their lives and their time to build this beautiful stadium.”
I mean, how many 22-year olds think of saying that amid the luxury around them?
AT HIS BEST IN THE BIGGEST GAMES
There’s one other who knows how far Parker has come while at Washington.
Parker flew his mother Rosslyn up from Los Angeles to be at the new Husky Stadium unveiling game against Boise State on Aug. 31 the opener.
“Especially for this first game, I wanted her to see this new stadium, this being my last year here,” he said.
On a perfect, 75-degree night in a glorious new stadium, Parker came out early without his shoulder pads or jersey to soak in the perfect environment about 90 minutes before kickoff. Charles Davis, the FOX Sports analyst who was calling the name nationally, came up to Parker under the west goal post and told the Huskies safety he was going to brag on him in the opening to the telecast, as if to warn him to live up to the hype Davis was dishing.
Parker, who had met Davis at the Pac-12 media day in his hometown of Los Angeles in July, simply nodded. Then he went out and backed up the props. On Boise State’s first drive, after the Broncos had momentum by advancing to UW’s 40, Parker zoomed over to intercept a deep pass at the sideline. It thwarted pretty much the only momentum the visitors had all night. He finished with five tackles while leading a Huskies defense that held then-No. 19 Boise State to just two field goals. UW’s 38-6 win was the worst loss of the Chris Petersen coaching era at Boise State. It was the fewest points Boise had scored since 1997.
The buffo opener was the third game Rosslyn, an optometrist at Kaiser Permanente hospital in Gardena, Calif., had seen her son play for UW in Seattle. He last lived with her when he was a national high-school star at Los Angeles’ Narbonne High School.
He was a USA Today second-team high school All-American then. Michigan wanted him. So did Notre Dame, California and hometown USC. He fielded 29 major-college scholarship offers in all.
Parker came on his official visit to UW in late January of 2010, weeks before signing day. His roommate that weekend was Keith Price.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Parker says.
The Huskies’ quarterback was obviously a great host. On decision day, Parker lined up the caps of USC, of Michigan and of Washington on a table inside Narbonne High. He then stunned many of his friends and those watching on national TV by choosing the Huskies.
When he arrived at UW in the summer of 2010 Sarkisian had immediate, high expectations for him. Parker played the first nine games as the fifth, nickel back. The freshman intercepted a pass in the end zone in a double-overtime win over Oregon State at old Husky Stadium on Oct. 16, 2010.
|Parker realizes he’s the senior to whom not only the secondary but the entire, growing defense looks to for direction.
He then got a stinger nerve injury in his neck and shoulders. That cost him the final four games of that debut season.
“That can be tough for a guy who is such a high-profile recruit and all that. But he continued to work hard and has gotten better every single year,” Sarkisian said.
Once he emerged from Sarkisian’s Dawg house for whacking teammates in the summer of 2011, Parker started all 13 games of that sophomore season at safety. He had 15 tackles in the video-game-like Alamo Bowl against Robert Griffin III and 12th-ranked Baylor. It is still Parker’s career high.
Last season, he again started all 13 games as essentially a strong safety that plays closer to the line on run support, yet is quick and versatile enough to drop deep into pass coverage, too. He was again best when the opponents were toughest. He had a dozen tackles at No. 2 Oregon. He sparked Washington’s home win over No. 8 Stanford with five tackles, one for a loss, plus a forced fumble. He had an interception and broke up three other passes when UW beat No. 7 Oregon State. He had seven more tackles, and one for a loss, in the Las Vegas Bowl against 20th-ranked Boise State.
In other words, he was a leader when he team needed it most.
“I’m really proud of him,” Sarkisian said -- again.
“THIS IS MY HOME”
This season, with Justin Glenn graduated and Desmond Trufant gone to Atlanta as an NFL first-round draft pick, Parker is the old man of the secondary. He laughs over the tag, yet it fits. He is dispensing the wisdom soaked in from Sarkisian the last three years.
“It’s amazing how mature he’s gotten,” the head coach says.
Parker realizes he’s the senior to whom not only the secondary but the entire, growing defense looks to for direction.
“I feel like I’ve accepted the leadership role,” he said. “The young guys look up to me, and it’s my job to lead them in the right way and be a positive role model for them – on and off the field.
“They listen to me. I think I’m doing pretty well at it. Guys listen to me, and I listen to them, as well, because everybody’s word is heard in the room, and everybody deserves and has a reason to talk.”
Born and raised in Los Angeles, with at least 11 more games remaining at UW, he already sees himself as a Husky for life.
“I will always want to come back,” Parker says, “because I feel like this is my home.”
What a difference two years make.
I asked if he ever thinks of that summer day when Sarkisian kicked him out of practice. If he ever thinks about how far he’s come to be a standout player plus a model leader and student-athlete in a rising program currently sitting at its highest national ranking in 10 years.
“I think about it from time to time, yeah,” Parker said. “I know Coach Sark didn’t mean anything personal by it. He was trying to make me better, to make me grow.
“Him sending me down there was the best thing for me.”
And not just on the field.
Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director or Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for the Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.
Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on GoHuskies.com each Wednesday.
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