Last Thursday brought a football kind of afternoon to Benjamin L. Johnson Memorial Stadium, home of the Germantown Bears.
Dark, jagged clouds betrayed only slivers of blue sky. The wind whipped in such a fashion that any gridiron coach in their right mind would have formulated a running-attack strategy rather than let their quarterback battle the air.
Then again, any gridiron coach in their right mind would probably do that on any given gameday, considering what Michael Hawkins – Bears coach since the bicentennial – had to say as players arrived to practice two days before clinching a Public League playoff spot.
“He’s like no cornerback I’ve seen in a long time,” said Hawkins, also the school’s dean of students. “He’s a student of the game. He wants to be great.”
Hawkins was talking about William Parks, a senior cornerback, wide receiver, running back and kick returner who, last summer, committed to the University of Pittsburgh. He did so despite offers from Buffalo, Connecticut, New Mexico, Stony Brook and Temple and interest from Boston College, New Hampshire, Norfolk State, Penn State and Rhode Island.
This isn’t the type of thing about which many high-school football players can boast, but Hawkins said Parks isn’t most high-school football players.
“During lunch, he’ll come up to my office and we’ll break down film together,” said Hawkins, noting that Parks wowed the college coaches during his Pitt visit by talking defensive formations while they were watching film. At one point, the defensive coach turned to the head coach and said, “You see why I want this kid?”
It’d be easy for a kid to let that sort of adulation go right to his head, but not Parks. For one thing, Hawkins also coached his father, so there’s a paternal track record. For another, he takes his role as a team leader seriously enough to approach someone waiting to interview him and ask whether he could go get his uniform and pads on before all his teammates get to the field.
This was just days after he scored three touchdowns against Northeast High, the defending Public AAAA champs, mind you.
Before he gets into his football history, Parks proudly points out that he learned earlier in the day that he scored an 85 on an AP psychology exam. “I may major in that,” he said.
The first time his number was called, he was a ninth grader at Father Judge and they envisioned him as a running back.
“They just wanted me to be out on the field,” the 6-foot-1, 175-pound player from Olney said. “I had two interceptions in that first game.”
That debut could well be the stuff of narrative lore for a kid described by his coach as “a shut-down corner and a big hitter, too, not an Asante Samuel,” referring to the Philadelphia Eagles’ embattled cornerback.
Parks made his way to Germantown as a sophomore and got into a game against suburban-football powerhouse Neshaminy. He recounts the exact play he caught Hawkins’ attention. It was a “quick jet sweep,” and he forced a Neshaminy fumble.
“We got ourselves a new starting cornerback,” the player said of what he heard the coach declare on the sidelines afterward.
Though his immediate future is already mapped – being just five hours away from Philadelphia in a “faith-based program” will make the transition easier – Parks said the commitment brought about a “sigh of relief.” However, there was not a sense that he doesn’t have to prove himself anymore.
As practice began that nippy Thursday, he ran in the middle of the pack for pre-drill laps. He held the ball for the kicker and led stretches, all with a little bit of athletic swagger, but not arrogance, to his step.
Then, with the quick footwork and instincts of a player with a future, he ran out onto the field and made three consecutive interceptions in passing drills.
While the young team didn’t fare well last season, that kind of senior leadership helped them improve to the point where Saturday’s 24-6 win over Bartram left the Bears at 4-4 and in third place in their division. Though Parks noted that his dad and coach “won’t ever take a day off” when it comes to his development, Hawkins sat him to rest up for a playoff run.
“I want to put this team on my back,” Parks said, “and get a state and city championship.”
If that’s that happen, it all starts at 3 p.m. Friday, when the Bears host Lincoln High (6-2) in the playoff opener. It won’t be easy, though: When the teams faced each other in September, Lincoln won 19-14.