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PARKER'S ROAD LEADS TO BENGALS SECONDARY

The words flow easily for Tyree Parker, as if he's been preaching them for decades. They come out quickly, emphatically, fervently, telling us his history of bad decisions, of walking away, of giving up hope.

Of how, while working in his brother's record store on Broadway, he thought his time as a football player and with it his chance to get a college degree, was behind him.

"I've been around the corner and back," Parker said.

How he came to be a 27-year-old starting safety on the Buffalo State football team is a long story.

Parker's problems started at Burgard High School. He said some Division I schools were interested in him after he graduated in 1994 but he had never taken his SATs or ACTs, so college was out of the question.

He hung around Buffalo for a year, then got a call from Alfred State, which was just starting its junior college team. He played there two years, won defensive MVP and earned his associate's degree in social science.

He verbally committed to Pittsburgh, but a coaching change brought in Walt Harris. Parker's commitment was not binding, and Harris showed no interest in him.

Charleston Southern did, and it offered him a full scholarship. He played there one year until being declared academically ineligible because he was missing three credits.

"I was so hung up on playing my senior year that it sidetracked me and I left school," Parker said. "I came back home because my family needed me. I have a daughter (Tyresha) who is now 8 years old. I had to give her my full attention because I was gone at school for four years.

"When I came home, I really didn't get back into school. I started working, trying to help take care of my family and stuff like that. I thought my football career was over."

He worked for three years, keeping his hand in football by playing in church flag leagues, coaching Cheektowaga little league and working out at the Delevan-Grider Community Center. He might still be doing that if Buffalo State assistant coach Anthony Adams hadn't stepped in.

"It's my first year at Buff State and I was working on recruiting," Adams recalled of last winter. "My first intent was to get Bobby Ballard (a transfer from Union College) and then Bobby mentioned something about Tyree . . . so I went to go check on him."

"I told him I thought he was coming to ask me if I wanted to coach because I thought my eligibility had run out," Parker said.

Adams discovered Parker had one year of Division III eligibility left, and was so impressed with the work ethic Parker displayed at the community center he took him to head coach Bob Swank.

Swank did some checking of his own, calling an old friend who had coached Parker at Charleston Southern.

"He told me about Tyree's ability. He was a big hitter down there in Charleston," Swank said. "The funny thing is the coach and Tyree were at odds. Both are hard-headed guys who didn't see eye to eye, but he told me enough about Tyree as a player that I thought he was worth taking a shot on."

Parker worked to lose about 25 pounds and three years of rust so that he was ready when returning starter and first-team All-ECAC free safety Mike Potter sprained his ankle and an MCL.

"That opened the door," Swank said. "And Tyree hasn't looked back."

"I wanted to start," Parker said. "When I came here, I was hungrier than I ever was in my life because this is my last chance to prove myself - to prove to me, the coaches, my teammates, my family that I still got it."

He proved it by taking home ECAC Northwest Defensive Player of the Week honorable mention honors the second week of the season.

One of three senior transfers to Buffalo State this year, along with Ballard (McKinley) and Andrew O'Hara (Orchard Park), Swank believes their unique experience is important, particularly for a team that has struggled to find positives in a sea of losses.

"Their attitude is they just want to play football," Swank said. "They're very appreciative and glad to have the opportunity to play one more season. . . . After a few losses, some guys start to get their heads down. Tyree's answer is to shut up and play. Just play football. The rest will take care of itself. He's not ready to jump off a bridge because we lost."

Parker is just 30 hours from his bachelor's in business, he's confident the extra education will help land him a better job, so he can take better care of his daughter and his family.

And he wants to help some other gifted athlete avoid the winding road he's followed.

"I felt like I was reborn again because after three years, to get the opportunity to get back on that field and play again, it was a blessing from God," Parker said. "I feel like I've been through a lot of trials, tribulations and adversity. A lot of kids in this day and age grow up who have the same adversities, who come to the same brick walls. I feel as though I can show them how to get over it because I've been through that same path.

"I want to try and give back to the kids and make them better than I ever could be. Because I thought I was good, but I think I can make another child better because I know my flaws. I know what I didn't do right. I can teach them to stay on that path."

e-mail: amoritz@buffnews.com

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