Seven weeks into his junior season, Rodriguez Parker’s Airline Vikings were rolling along.
With Parker leading the defense from his linebacker spot, the Vikings were 6-1 and unbeaten in District 1-5A with a showdown against unbeaten Parkway.
Five minutes into that matchup, things changed for Parker.
“I jumped over one of my players, and my knee just buckled,” Parker said. “I tore my ACL. I couldn’t get back in the game. I tried, but coach said I couldn’t. I just cried. I didn’t know what to do.”
Those tears born of pain turned into bittersweet ones, as the Vikings won the game and made a run to the Class 5A state quarterfinals, as Parker watched and cheered on his teammates.
“It was very tough,” Parker said. “It was very stressful. I was pretty sad. I wish I could have been out there.”
With Parker out, Airline coach Bo Meeks estimated the Vikings defense lost “10-12 tackles per game,” but Parker’s influence went beyond the stat sheet.
“We lost one of our best leaders, not only defensively, but team-wise,” Meeks said. “He’s one of the guys everyone looks to. Losing him was a blow. We had a couple of seniors step up and help us finish strong, but it’s really good to have him back.”
Parker said he was worried “it was over” when he found out he tore his ACL.
Thankfully for him, but unfortunately for the Vikings, Parker and his teammates have become experts on dealing with that particular injury.
From Trey Turner to John Thomas to Parker to Roderick Spurlock, Airline has dealt with more than its share of torn ligaments in the last two years.
“I talked to Roderick Spurlock,” Parker said of who he turned to during his seven-month rehab. “He tore his ACL as a sophomore, and he tore it this year, too. He said it was very stressful.”
Both Parker and Meeks say the linebacker is “as close to 100 percent as he can be.”
Parker said he felt that way by the beginning of summer workouts. In the first week of heat acclimation drills, he did nothing to dissuade his coach from thinking the same.
Even as temperatures climbed toward triple digits, Parker simply was happy to be back on a football field.
That demeanor clashes with what Meeks has seen in two seasons since he and his staff moved Parker from running back to linebacker.
“He has great instincts,” Meeks said. “He has good speed, and he’s very physical and angry when he gets to the ball.”