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PARKER AND ELLIS HAVE THEIR OWN BUFFALO CONNECTIONS

They are two guys with strong ties to Buffalo. But any feelings Vaughan Parker and Ed Ellis have for the Queen City will be put aside today.

Parker and Ellis are offensive linemen for the San Diego Chargers, who host the Buffalo Bills in Qualcomm Stadium.

"I grew up in Buffalo, so I was a big Bills fan," Parker said. "I still want them to do well . . . when we're not playing them."

Parker is the Chargers' starting right tackle. Ellis doesn't start but plays in the team's goal-line packages and on special teams. He blocked an extra point kick earlier this season against New England.

Regardless of their roles, Parker and Ellis could have a huge bearing on the game's outcome.

"In football, it all starts in the trenches," said Ellis, a Connecticut native who was a Division I-AA All-American at the University at Buffalo. "It's a big game for us. The fact that it's against Buffalo makes it even more special."

When Parker was a high school star at St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute in the late 1980s, playing professional football was the furthest thing from his mind. His dream was to play college football.

Parker earned a scholarship at UCLA in 1989. After redshirting as a freshman, he started the next four years, became an All-American and joined Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Gary Beban (1965-67) as only the players in school history to earn all-conference (Pac-10) honors three times.

Even after being drafted in the second round by the Chargers, Parker wasn't sure how long it would last. But here he is, an eight-year veteran and the leader of the Chargers' offensive line.

"I never imagined it would come to this," Parker said following a practice this week. "I've been fortunate to get eight years in thus far. It's a combination of hard work, and you've got to be a little lucky as far as staying healthy."

Parker is not the prototypical size for an NFL offensive tackle (6-foot-3 and 300 pounds). But he has been sturdy and durable with 82 career starts. His presence has solidified a young offensive line this season.

"Vaughan has done tremendously well," said offensive line coach Joe Bugel, who coached the famous "Hogs" in Washington. "He's the leader of that offensive line. He's really a professional in all kinds of ways -- his preparation, his physical attributes to the game. I love coaching him."

Ellis was drafted in the fourth round in 1997 by New England, but he was let go after three seasons, nine appearances and one start.

After a year on the bench in Washington, Ellis was given a chance to start by the Chargers. They even moved Parker to left tackle to make a spot for Ellis.

But a knee injury in training camp knocked Ellis out of the lineup. With Parker going back to right tackle and second-year pro Damon McIntosh playing well on the left side, Ellis hasn't been able to regain his spot.

Although Ellis' playing time is limited, the Chargers are still high on him.

"Ed's been a real good addition for us," Bugel said. "He's playing a little bit on defense and special teams and he's a backup tackle. The thing I like about Ed is he can play left and right tackle. And I'm not so sure he couldn't play defensive tackle."

The Chargers are looking to continue their surprising start today. The team has become the talk of the town, but Parker said the players will not let themselves to get overly excited.

"The thing is we're not impressed with being 4-2," he said. "We want to be impressed with being 14-2, and the veterans on this team know that the objective now is to be 17-2. We're not letting the little success we're having early affect us."
e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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