CHERRY HILL As practice came to an end, the team gathered around Sameer Parks to break it down.
Players bounced around, ending the session on a high note as the junior two-way lineman directed one last chant.
Just a few years ago, there were some serious doubts whether Parks would even step on the field let alone be the center of attention for the Cherry Hill West High School football team.
“It didn’t look like it was in the picture for him,” coach Brian Wright said.
“As a freshman, it was either he wasn’t going to last or I wasn’t going to last. It’s amazing the turnaround this kid has made in his life.”
Words like independent and unfocused come to Parks’ mind when asked to reflect on his past.
“As a freshman, I was kind of just around,” he said.
“I could have played varsity, but the way I started out … It was also my grades. In the classroom, I was just mad, so angry. I felt I should have been playing varsity, but I changed things around as a sophomore.”
Now in his second year as a starter at offensive tackle and defensive end, Parks has realized his potential. He wants to play at the college level and has taken huge strides toward making that goal become a reality.
He’s emerged as a leader for the Lions. Teammates gravitate toward him, and he’s even a captain.
Quick off the edge at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, Parks got his house in order and has kept it that way.
“It was a tough situation. He was getting into trouble in school and it wasn’t looking good for him,” Wright said. “But as a program, we surrounded him with support. I’m really proud of my staff. He’s really come a long way as a person, and we rank that as the No. 1 priority. He’s become a effectively become a model for our program.
“I’ve known him since the eighth grade and he was a kid who always had the ability. He has a motor that just doesn’t stop and even though he may be undersized, he’s one kid you don’t want to go up against. He potentially has Division I ability. He’s always moving.”
Wright recalled a scrimmage last season against Pennsauken.
“I had to take him out so we could get something accomplished. He was in the backfield the whole game,” the coach said.
As a sophomore, it didn’t take Parks too long to figure things out. Following a 20-19 loss to Triton in the season opener, his eyes opened even more and everything started to click. Something inside told him it was time to start taking over.
“I realized I have an opportunity to be great,” he said. “I had do more. I had to focus, be a leader and step up.”
Said Wright: “His growth is unbelievable. As good a football player as he is, he’s become an even better person. He’s excelling in the classroom and the kids look up to him. They see how he handles certain situations.”
Parks’ days of being the free spirit, the one who lacked focus are now in the past. His attention is now on making his team better each day and doing what’s necessary off the field to help secure his future plans.
“I want to go to college, I want to be great,” he said. “When I leave West, I want people to remember.
“I wasn’t as focused as a freshman because it wasn’t my time. But realizing what I have to do for the team, this is my time.”
Kevin Minnick; (856) 486-2424; firstname.lastname@example.org