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Mount Carmel Caravan offensive linesman Brian Parker (63) gets ready to make a block against the Providence Celtics at Providence High School in New Lenox, Illinois, Friday, Oct. 19, 2012. | Michael DiNovo~For Sun-Times Media
A couple of years ago, Brian Parker faced a crossroads.
“At that point, I just didn’t know if I wanted to play football anymore,” the Mount Carmel senior said.
Parker wasn’t going to walk out on his Caravan sophomore teammates before the season ended. But he was ready to walk away from the sport.
So Parker, his father and Mount Carmel head coach Frank Lenti met in Lenti’s office and talked things over for a half hour. At the end, Parker had changed his mind and gave a commitment to Lenti and the program that he’d stick around.
“It was the right decision,” Parker said. “Sophomore year, it was the most fun I’d ever had playing football.”
After negotiating that speed bump, Parker stepped on the gas and he’s been on cruise control ever since. A 5-foot-11, 230-pounder, he’s not the biggest or fastest or most heavily recruited player for the No. 1 Caravan, which plays Brother Rice in a Class 8A opener Saturday morning at Gately Stadium. But guys like him have been the foundation of all the success Mount Carmel football has had over the years: 29 trips to the IHSA playoffs, including the last 27 years in a row; 15 trips to the state finals; 10 championships.
“He’s really the emotional leader and the calming effect on the offensive line,” said Lenti, who’s also Parker’s position coach. “He knows what everyone around him is supposed to do. He’s one of those kids who really understands the game.”
Parker isn’t just a student of football. He’s also one of the smartest kids in the school, ranking in the top three in his class with teammates Buster Sheridan and Joe Pavlik.
And Parker has done it the hard way. He’s taking six Advanced Placement classes this semester, a course load that often has him doing homework from the time he gets home from practice till 10:30 or 11 each night.
It’s nothing new, though. From the get-go, Parker’s parents have made sure he had his priorities in order.
“They really stressed when I was younger, the first thing you do [when you get home from school] is your homework,” he said. “You don’t go outside with your friends.”
Now, Parker does get to hang out with his friends right after school, at football practice. It’s the camaraderie that makes all the juggling of academics and athletics worth the effort. It’s what makes him so glad he didn’t walk away from the game two years ago.
“Everyone goes through that during football,” Parker said. “It wears down on you. Sometimes you feel like you don’t want to go back the next year.”
But now he knows he chose the right path. His mind is clear on that as the Caravan (8-1) gets ready to embark on another playoff run and as Parker realizes his football career may soon be over. He hasn’t made a Division I commitment like fellow seniors Draco Smith (Northern Illinois), Vince Speller (Eastern Illinois) or D.J. Romero (Illinois State). He’s not getting big-time interest like Caravan juniors Matt Domer, Nate Oquendo and Enoch Smith.
Parker has applied to Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis. And Lenti believes Parker could be a good fit at the University of Chicago, where Mount Carmel alums Adam Cushing and Sean Dillon were captains.
But Parker isn’t thinking much farther ahead than the next game. “I like being out there with the brothers on the team,” he said. “It’s about the camaraderie. It’s why I keep playing.”
And it’s a big reason Mount Carmel keeps winning and winning.