Football coaches talk to their players about sacrificing for their team.
Military sergeants talk to their platoons about sacrificing for their country.
Battle Creek Central’s Carlos Parks has heard those words and is doing both during his senior season with the Bearcats.
Parks gave up most of his summer and the first two football games of the season to do an early stint in boot camp and get a head start on being a member of the U.S. Army National Guard. It is part of a program in which juniors in high school can enroll into the National Guard early, finish boot camp the summer before their senior year, and then be ready to take the next step in their military life as soon as they graduate high school.
What Parks has done has made an impression on his coach.
“I have a lot of respect for what he is doing,” Battle Creek Central coach Lorin Granger said. “He not only made a commitment to give up part of his summer, he is making a commitment to join the military to defend my opportunity to be a football coach and for our freedoms as Americans. It means a lot for a guy to sacrifice what he has for us – that is the ultimate team player.”
Parks arrived back in Battle Creek over the weekend after 70 days of boot camp and was greeted by some of his teammates at C.W. Post Field as he was eager to get some football work in after being away from the team. With the city rivalry game between Battle Creek Central and Lakeview this week, Parks started going through some drills to learn some new plays immediately Saturday morning. He is expected to see plenty of playing time at fullback right away.
“I remember when he first started talking about it, I didn’t believe he was going to do it,” Battle Creek Central senior Jackie Hampton said. “But he took off and got the job done. I have a lot of respect for what he is doing. He is putting in the work to get to where he wants to be. But we couldn’t wait to get him back.”
Battle Creek Central has played two games already this season, after three weeks of preseason practices. Parks hasn’t been able to be a part of any of that.
“It was tough to give up my summer and not to be there for my team or to be able to play in the games,” Parks said. “When I heard they lost those two games it really hit me. I figured I could have done something to help. But now I am here to do whatever I can to help this team.”
Parks participated in boot camp in Fort Benning, Ga., which Parks points out is considered the toughest boot camp in the military. He was selected as a squad leader, directing 57 individuals for what ended up being an honor platoon with the most streamers in camp. The boot camp is part of what is called a split option in the Army National Guard program. From here Parks will continue to serve one weekend a month at Battle Creek’s Fort Custer in the Army National Guard throughout the school year. After graduation, Parks will then decide to join the ROTC in college or go to Advanced Individual Training.
The entire experience has made him a better person, according to Parks, and he expects, a better football player.
“It’s not about me anymore. The Army teaches you about selfless service,” Parks said. “Going in, I was big-headed. But I am humble now and I want to be more of a team member than an individual. And that’s what this team needs. It will take the whole team to start winning games and I think I can help them learn that after what I went through.
“The Army breaks you down and builds you back up. I am a lot wiser and stronger than I was and I think that can only help on the football field.”
Parks, a two-year starter in the backfield, still has aspirations of playing college football. Or, if that doesn’t work out, he hopes his time in the National Guard can help in his journey to pursue a criminal justice degree and maybe one day join the FBI.
“It wasn’t just a huge sacrifice for him to be away from home and miss some games, but he was thinking about college football and missing two games can’t help that much,” Granger said. “But here’s a kid that looked at what he needed to do for a better future and he took this road and I think that was a very mature decision on his part.”
And Granger hopes some of what Parks learned about being a part of Team USA in the Army can help Team Bearcats back home in Battle Creek.
“I think the big problem we have had this year so far is we haven’t been ready to sacrifice for each other,” Granger said. “It’s good timing Carlos is coming back when he is because we can highlight his sacrifice for his country and his sacrifice for our freedoms. With him as an example, we can ask the team what they are willing to do for each other, what they are willing to sacrifice for the team.”
Contact Bill Broderick (269) 966-0678 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow him on Twitter @billbroderick