Parker driven to carry on

FAU's Parker has endured the death of this mother and his own injuries.

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

BOCA RATON Dozens of NFL jerseys hang in Thomas Parker's locker at the Oxley Athletic Center.

His favorite uniform is the Bengals jersey of wide receiver Chad Johnson.

"I've met him and talked to him," said Parker, a senior receiver from Miami-Northwestern High School. "He went to Miami Beach High and I talk to him and hang out with him during the off-season. I try to copy his moves."

Wearing jerseys of the best receivers in the game used to inspire Parker, but this season he's motivated by a meager T-shirt.

On the shirt is a picture of his mother, Dorthy Wells. Under the photo is an inscription of the date on which she died.

Parker wears the T-shirt under his jersey when he plays. It's out of sight but never far from his thoughts.

"My motivation this year is my mother," Parker said. "I always wear her shirt under my shoulder pads after I cut the sleeves off it."

Wells died in January of pneumonia.

"She went into the hospital Christmas night and died Jan. 18," Parker said. "She would get better and then get worse. It's tough without her."

Parker is no stranger to heartbreak. He was involved in a serious accident in 2003 after he stopped to help an injured motorist and was struck by a car.

Parker suffered a fractured jaw and broken elbow. He jokes that, after being hit by a car, a tackle by a defensive back doesn't seem that bad. He still bears an ugly scar on his elbow and neck from the accident.

"Those are going to be with me forever, I'm afraid," Parker said.

It was more than the scars that gave a reminder of that accident to Parker. After the accident, Parker missed the entire season. One of the original FAU players, Parker needed an exception from the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility just to play this season, which he wanted to dedicate to his mother's memory.

Parker wrote a letter to the NCAA this summer and waited for a reply, but it wasn't easy.

"I really just wanted then to know everything that I had been through and asked them to not hold that against me," Parker said.

The NCAA's ruling came just days before the Owls' season opener vs. Kansas, and Parker rushed to practice when the Owls coaching staff called him to let him know he was cleared to play.

"I was getting very frustrated because I was practicing without knowing I was going to play or not" Parker said. "That took a toll on me mentally. When I got the news I just got goose bumps."

Parker scored on a 66-yard touchdown pass vs. Kansas in his first game back.

"That's really one of the most appreciated things the NCAA has done with a young man's life," said FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger. "It's given him a chance for him to fulfill his football dream."

Parker leads the Owls with 107 yards receiving this season, despite not starting.

"I don't know if it's maturity or what, but I feel the best I've felt in years out there," Parker said.

Parker's positive attitude even after the tough road he's traveled has made an impression on the Owls' young receivers.

"I have learned a lot from Thomas," said freshman receiver Frantz Simeon. "I admire him for his dedication and hard work after all he's been through."

That's fine with Parker.

"I like the fact they look up to me," Parker said. "They ask me a lot of questions, and I feel like I'm a motivational speaker sometimes."