Erin Parker will tell you he's never comfortable during a run until he sees the end zone beneath his feet. His track record tells you maybe he shouldn't be so worried.
The fleet-footed Roosevelt running back has 2,272 rushing yards and 26 total touchdowns this season heading into Friday's Class IV Long Island Championship game against Glenn. Sixteen of those touchdowns have come on runs of more than 39 yards. Eight have come on gains of more than 60 yards.
Defenses shouldn't have to analyze those numbers too long to reach a simple conclusion: If Parker breaks free, it's already too late.
"I hate to say I expect it, but if we can get him on the edge and he's got his speed, he should be gone," Rough Riders coach Joe Vito said. "We're all depending on his speed and his strength, because he breaks a lot of tackles. He's got a low center of gravity and he's got strength. I'm disappointed if he doesn't turn the corner and beat everybody down the field."
This season, the 5-8, 170-pound Parker twice has rushed for more than 320 yards and scored four touchdowns in a game. He's averaging more 11.5 yards per carry. But big runs and big numbers are nothing new to Parker.
At age 6, he already was dominating football fields on Long Island. Playing in a PAL league, Parker had little problem using his quick moves to outmaneuver peers and burst downfield.
But as he matured, he realized he would have to do more than simply rely on raw talent. Parker tried more and more to understand how to harness his speed and, entering eighth grade, he decided to find out just how fast he really was and how fast he could be. He joined the track team.
"I thought it would be helpful to me on the football field, to know exactly where my speed was at," Parker said.
His first year, he ran an impressive 11.2 seconds in the 100 meters and a 22.9 in the 200. The experience helped him so much he's continued running throughout high school, mostly in sprint competitions. Parker has also taken on wrestling to help him develop strength.
"I've seen him at track meets where there's an air of confidence around him," Vito said. "But it's not cockiness. He just keeps striving for near perfection and to be at the best of his ability."
But seeing Parker tearing 60 yards down the sideline for a touchdown can sometimes detract from all the work and preparation it took to get him there. His frequent and lengthy runs often look deceivingly easy. Don't be fooled. Aside from a strong physical work ethic that enables him to continue racking up standout performances, his ability to move on mentally has been a key in continuing a mammoth season.
The worst moments of Parker's year came Oct. 21, when after gaining at least 167 yards in each game, a tough Seaford defense limited Parker to just 10 yards on six carries in a 21-6 Roosevelt loss.
"After that game, I was very disappointed," Parker said. "A lot of my friends made fun of me. I tried not thinking about it too much, but other people would bring it up. I just had to keep it out of my own mind."
The following week, Parker rushed for 246 yards and a 90-yard touchdown in the regular-season finale, a win over West Hempstead that gave Roosevelt the No. 2 seed heading into the playoffs.
"One thing about him, he doesn't let anything bother him," Vito said. "I know he was disappointed, but he knew he would have another opportunity."
And another chance to see the goal line beneath his spikes.
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