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From La Vernia to Lubbock Justus Parker’s journey to Division I football

 
From La Vernia to Lubbock Justus Parker’s journey to Division I football
TEXAS TECH UNIVERSITY ATHLETICS "” Since taking over in the defensive backfield for the Red Raiders, former La Vernia Bear Justus Parker has earned All-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week three times this season.

Pro Football Hall of Fame Head Coach Marv Levy is credited with the saying, “Football doesn’t build character, it reveals character.” The sport has often been attributed with “revealing” such character traits as dedication, hard work, self-sacrifice, and perseverance.

One case in point is the career of former La Vernia High School star and current Texas Tech Red Raider sophomore defensive back Justus Parker. Growing up, Parker had a dream: to play Division I football. Starting out at 5 years old, playing for the La Vernia Grizzlies at Wiseman Field, Parker faced numerous obstacles along the way.

Despite setbacks, naysayers, and numerous barriers in his path, Parker never wavered in his belief that one day he would achieve all of his dreams.

“What I love about football is how it can bring so many different people together to work toward one goal,” Parker said in an interview following practice in Lubbock. “I think it’s amazing how teamwork accomplishes things in this sport. I think it’s incredible how people from completely different outlooks and backgrounds can come together and be a team.”

Though not always the strongest or fastest, Parker had that “it factor” that coaches love. This intangible has led him to the success that he’s experienced in his still-burgeoning career.

“Growing up, I remember guys like Corey Fuller, Zeke Riser, and Aaron and Seth Grubb; they were the first ones from La Vernia to go and play Division I football,” Parker said. “I always wanted to follow in their footsteps. That was my dream. I knew to make that happen, I was just going to have to work a little harder than most guys.”

At La Vernia, playing both offense and defense, Parker helped the Bears to a 12-2 record his junior year on the way to earning All-State honors. Despite this success, Parker went unnoticed by college scouts. As his senior year approached, he had not received any Division I scholarship offers.

Looking at his resume, it seems incredible that Parker did not get more attention. On the field, his All-State honors in football went along with similar accolades in basketball, baseball, and track and field. In terms of character, he was active with teen ACTS -- a retreat ministry -- at St. Ann Catholic Church and was an officer in the local chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. It should have been the proverbial no-brainer for someone to scoop him up.

“A lot of times, if a kid doesn’t fit the prototype and they aren’t exactly what college coaches are looking for, those kids fall through the cracks,” said former La Vernia and current Yoakum Head Coach Bo Robinson. “Justus was one of those kinds of players. He doesn’t fit the mold of a typical Division I defensive back. As a coach you try to change people’s minds, but sometimes they don’t listen.”

On National Signing Day, Parker did not sign with any school after he received preferred walk-on offers from UTSA, Abilene Christian, and Montana State. Ultimately, the 2015 La Vernia graduate decided to stay close to home, signing with Division III Texas Lutheran University in nearby Seguin.

“They were the first school that really seemed interested in me, rather than me being interested in them,” Parker explained. “The experience there was really a learning one for me. It was a stepping stone for me and it helped me to have some of the success that I would later have here at Texas Tech.”

As a true freshman starting for the Bulldogs in 2015, Parker played in 10 games and compiled some impressive stats. He was in on 48 tackles, including 36 solo tackles, four of which were for a loss. This went along with his one sack, one forced and recovered fumble, and two interceptions.

This allowed Parker to become a first-team All-Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference member, one of only two freshmen to achieve this honor on defense. These were tremendous accolades, but Parker longed to do even more; deep down, he knew he still needed to chase his dream.

“He had a great year at TLU, but I knew he had a goal to play Division I,” Robinson said. “I talked to him there and I said to him an education is an education, but if you want to play D-I, you need to transfer somewhere that can give you that option.”

Robinson had a nephew who had walked on at Texas Tech a few years ago and ultimately earned a scholarship there. He had a connection to Tech through that circumstance, as well as through the recruitment of several of his current Yoakum players by Texas Tech.

“I told them about Justus and said they really needed to give him a look,” Robinson said. “I told them if they gave him a shot, he was going to be a player for them. He was going to take somebody’s spot. They kind of looked at me like I was his coach trying to sell them on him. But they ultimately did give him a look and there he is, like I said.”

As part of his transfer rules, Parker had to sit out one season. In that time, he continued working, getting stronger, faster, and becoming a key member of the Red Raider scout team. This season, as a sophomore, Parker has fulfilled all of his former coach’s predictions and become a starter for Tech. Not only has he made the team, he has been a key contributor, rapidly working his way toward becoming the team’s defensive MVP. He also has earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors three times this season.

“[His] story is pretty incredible,” said Texas Tech Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury, in an interview with The Daily Toreador. “He ... has worked really hard and started at the very bottom, and to see him go out there and make plays is just inspiring, really, because he had every reason to give up or quit. So, really proud of him and how far he’s come.”

Quitting never crossed Parker’s mind. No matter how humbling the experiences of the last three years have been, no matter how many times he got knocked down, and no matter how many times people have told him he couldn’t do something, Parker never wavered.

“This whole experience has helped me mature and grow up into a man,” Parker said. “I really feel like this whole time God put me where I needed to be. He has blessed me and is still using me even now.”

His drive, his belief in himself, and the support he has gotten from his family always propelled him forward. While he has achieved his goal of reaching D-I, there is still more for him to do. Currently, Texas Tech is 5-6 and eighth in the Big 12. The Red Raiders will face the University of Texas Nov. 24 to close their season. If Parker has his way, they will get a bowl berth, and do even more in the years to come.

“I’m nowhere near satisfied with things right now,” he said. “I’ve got the rest of this year and two more to come. I’m going to play this game as far as I can. If that’s the next level, then so be it. Either way, I’m going to work as hard as I can and get the most of my time here.”

Justus Parker

• 6’0”, 210 pounds

• Sophomore, Public Relations

Texas Tech Career Statistics

• Games Played: 8

• Tackles: 20, 16 unassisted,

4 assisted, 1 tackle for loss

• Interceptions: 3, 59 yards

• Fumbles: 1 recovered, 1 touchdown

Texas Lutheran Career Statistics

• Games Played: 10

• Tackles: 48, 38 unassisted,

12 assisted, 4 tackles for loss

• Interceptions: 2, 38 yards

• Fumbles: 1, 33 yards

 
 
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