When you look back at past years' rosters for the UConn Huskies football team, it's rare to see someone from Newington High School, the high school I graduated from, playing for them. The second-to-last player to do it was Alex Kaiser, a walk-on tight end.
Now, another Newington High School product, the 2009 state volleyball player of the year, Spencer Parker, is making the best of his time in Storrs.
The Newington, CT native's journey to Storrs wasn't like any one of his teammates though.
While he played football as the quarterback at Newington High where he passed for around 1,500 yards and eight touchdowns and ran for 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns his senior year in leading the Indians to the Class L State Championship game (they fell to Masuk of Monroe), he made his name for himself there as a volleyball player.
Besides the state player of the year of honors in 2009, he was also an All-State pick for two years and three time All-Conference in volleyball. His volleyball career would continue on in college at Lasell College where in 2010, he picked up GNAC All-Conference honors as a freshman.
A trip home to the quaint suburban town of Newington during his freshman year though drastically changed Parker's future.
"I was sitting there watching a UConn football game on television with my dad and he knew I missed it and kind of wanted to pursue it," Parker said. "He told me I could play with these guys and it just kind of got stuck in my head."
He missed the 2011 fall season at UConn as he didn't get in but was at the UConn branch in West Hartford, CT. He transferred to Storrs in the spring and got in touch with now former UConn recruiting coordinator Matt Cersosimo who told him when the spring tryouts would be.
Parker and six others tried out for the team and were put through conditioning drills and lifting and other things that the current UConn players were already doing.
"I thought I'd be a practice player," said Parker. "When you walk-on, you get to pick your position. I saw the depth chart and I knew the guys, one of my old buddies (the above mentioned Kaiser) was a walk-on as a tight end. I thought it would be the best opportunity for me to get on the field."
"For him and even the walk-ons who don’t play, I give them an unbelievable amount of credit and respect because what they do through day in and day out and to know in the back of their heads that they are not going to even play," Berlin, CT native and RB Max DeLorenzo said. "Spencer is a different breed, a great athlete. He got an opportunity for his last year and credit to him and all those guys because they are mentally tough."
He earned his first collegiate football letter during the 2012 season when he saw action in eight games, all on special teams. During those eight games, he had three tackles.
With Ryan Griffin and John Delahunt graduating, Parker had the chance to get on the field in 2013. He earned the back up spot behind Glastonbury's Sean McQuillan at tight end. But with McQuillian missing the first game due to a concussion, he got the start in the Huskies first game, a blowout loss to FCS school Towson.
It was in that game, that he made his first "catch" on a two-point conversion late in the game. His first official NCAA catch though was an 11 yard touchdown pass from QB Chandler Whitmer on Saturday in the 24-21 loss to Michigan.
"There was not a chance I was going to drop that ball," said Parker. "They were going to have to rip it out of me. It was a perfect pass, hit me right in the hands."
After the game, Parker's Facebook page and phone were lit up with messages of congratulations. He even joked that the whole town of Newington had congratulated him.
I can tell you I definitely had a smile on my face when he caught the touchdown pass because he's from my hometown. You could still see the excitement in his eyes about it as multiple reporters surrounded him in the lunchroom at the Burton Family Football Complex on Tuesday.
To me though the best part of the story is that through all of his hard work he put in, he is no longer paying his own way as UConn head coach Paul Pasqualoni gave him a scholarship for this season.
"I was in the training room and coach came in and told me they were going to be able to put me on scholarship," Parker said. "It was an unreal experience. I was so happy."
As far as what the future holds for Parker this season at UConn who knows. Personally, I think you'll see him more involved in the offense because of his speed.
"Spencer Parker is fast," Pasqualoni said. "He's legit fast for a tight end. He showed it on the touchdown play and hope he builds on that. Parker was in the right spot for the touchdown."
As far his future after football, he wants to be a state trooper. A much different story then when he gave this quote his freshman year at Lasell.
"After Lasell I plan on continuing to play volleyball and possibly pursue playing beach doubles while coaching."
The moral of Parker's story is quite simple.
If you have a dream, pursue it. You never know what will happen.
Just ask Spencer Parker, who is living his dream.
photo credits: ian bethune – sox & dawgs