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Today's Husky Legend: Tony Parrish
Release: 10/08/2010
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Oct. 8, 2010

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By Matt Winter

When Tony Parrish arrived in Montlake in the fall of 1993, he and the rest of his recruiting class had a decision to make. With the departure of legendary head coach Don James and the imposition of sanctions on the UW football program, any of the incoming freshman that year could have opted to leave Washington and transfer to another school without having to sit out a full season (as allowed by the NCAA when sanctions are put on a program).

"We made the choice to stay and hold the program together," explains Parrish, who played in 46 of 47 games from 1994-1997. "Washington was our first choice and that's where we wanted to be. We wanted to be together and made a commitment to stay."

Fast-forward five years and 10 members of that class are starting for the Huskies in 1997 (five on offense, five on defense). Ten Huskies were also drafted in the 1998 NFL Draft, just short of the UW record (11 were drafted in 1983 and 1991).

"We pushed each other," Parrish says of his class, "but you have to remember that that type of talent was around the program above us. We knew we had talent but we knew we had a lot to live up to. Former players would be around and my attention at times would be to their response, not the coaches. I knew what I was representing."

Arguably no player was more important to that era than Parrish. The hardhitting safety from Huntington Beach, Calif. made a blip on UW's radar after his high school coach brought his highlight tape to a Husky Rose Bowl practice at a community college just a few miles from his high school. Parrish wasn't heavily recruited, mainly because of the difficulty of standing out in talentheavy Southern California, but his play on the tape and overall athleticism were enough for Husky coaches.

"It was a combination of the plays I was making on the field, as well as my success in track," says Parrish, who triple-jumped over 50 feet and won a state title his junior year. "Even though I didn't have the stats that other guys had, they offered me a scholarship two weeks later."

After redshirting in 1993 (as did the whole freshman class that year), Parrish was immediately thrown into the heat of battle. Perhaps it had something to do with the 30 pounds of muscle he added between August and April of 1993, taking him up to 5'11" 205 pounds. He played in every quarter of every game in '94 and started the season opener at USC.

"It was a hot, smoggy day in LA," he remembers about his debut. "I remember running down on kickoff and making the first tackle of the game and staying on the field for defense. It was just surreal."

Parrish and the Dawgs made it through the two year bowl ban by not letting it change their mentality. If they couldn't technically win the conference, they were going to play spoiler for everyone. If they couldn't go to the Rose Bowl, they were going to remind every team they played what the Rose Bowl was missing.

"Sanctions didn't change anything at all. Our goal was to get game-ready."

In 1995, the Huskies were bowl eligible again and Parrish had the starting job at rover alongside All-American free safety Lawyer Milloy. Parrish had a solid season, notching 39 tackles and six pass deflections, as the Dawgs tied for first in the Pac-10 with USC. However, because UW and USC tied that season and both teams' records were 6-1-1 in Pac-10 play, the Trojans went to the Rose Bowl because of their greater number of non-conference wins.

After the '95 season, Milloy bolted a year early for the NFL Draft, making way for Parrish to take over at free safety. The transition was seamless for Parrish, who excelled in the role of quarterbacking the secondary.

"Free safety is a position with more authority and control of the defense," he explains. "As a safety that's where you want to be."

The 1996 season was a big year for Parrish. He finished with 71 tackles, two forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, and two interceptions -- one of which he returned for a touchdown. Those totals earned him a First Team All- Pac-10 selection and helped the Dawgs to a 9-3 record and a Holiday Bowl appearance.

The 1997 season was the final year the '93 recruiting class had at Washington. Parrish was elected team captain and led the charge of a team that would reach as high as No. 6 in the country, but injuries and other reasons kept them from reaching the Rose Bowl. They had to settle for an Aloha Bowl berth and a 51-23 trouncing of Michigan State, a game in which Parrish returned an interception 56 yards for a touchdown.

"We may have lost games, but we were never out-physicaled and never out-conditioned," Parrish declares of the '97 squad. "No one was going to be tougher than us, no one was going to be better conditioned than us."

Parrish finished the season with 81 tackles and six interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. The Chicago Bears made him a second round pick in 1998 and, in his first career game Parrish compiled 13 tackles and two forced fumbles. In a nine-year NFL career with the Bears, San Francisco 49ers, and Dallas Cowboys, he amassed 634 tackles, five sacks, and 30 interceptions. He was named an All-Pro in 2003 after leading the league with nine picks. However, despite all the professional success, his time at UW was sacred.

"Being a Dawg was everything then. It was pride, toughness. I had to live up to the ones that came before me, especially coming into the thick of it in the 90's, there was a standard we had to live up to."

With players like him still coming around, let's hope that standard continues.

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