NORMAL — University High School football coach John Johnson wanted his youthful offensive line to get a handle on run blocking before unleashing senior tailback Spencer Parker.
And now that Parker has a solid handle on the football, the Pioneers are running wild.
Parker set what is believed to be a school record with 385 yards rushing in last week’s 56-48 win over Springfield Southeast. That came on the heels of a 192-yard effort the previous week in a 29-26 victory over Springfield Lanphier.
“We started off with four really tough games, teams with 90-player rosters, so we tried the passing game,” Johnson said. “We tried to hold up running the ball because I knew our line was growing up. We decided as coaches we could try to run the ball the last two weeks and we sure have.”
Parker has carried that load with 577 of his 749 yards on the season coming the past two games.
“Running the ball these past couple games has completely changed the whole dynamic and the atmosphere of the team,” said Parker. “It sparks a lot of enthusiasm and confidence throughout the line.”
Parker will take an unwanted break Friday as the 2-4 Pioneers face Class 6A No. 1-ranked Chatham Glenwood in a 7 p.m. homecoming game at Hancock Stadium. A minor auto accident has Parker in the concussion protocol.
“A guy backed into me so fast I didn’t have time to react,” Parker said. “I’ve been biting my nails because I’m so anxious to play. I’ll take it easy and next week I’ll push to get in there.”
U High quarterback Camdyn Barclay believes Parker’s speed sets him apart.
“A guy with that speed, give him the ball and he’s going to make a play,” said Barclay. “He knows how to pick holes, when to bounce outside and when to stay in and take it upfield.”
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At 6-foot-3, 175 pounds, Parker also has the ability to escape tackles, according to Johnson.
“He’s a really fast kid with good vision. He’s shifty and can break tackles,” Johnson said. “He uses his speed pretty well when he gets in the open.”
Johnson was hesitant to let Parker run the ball much last season because a broken thumb had compromised Parker’s ability to secure the ball. He had healed sufficiently by the final game to rush for over 100 yards.
“I fumbled it I think twice (last season),” said Parker. “I’ve been securing that thing tight. My thumb is completely fine.”
Parker emphasized “it’s not just me.”
He credited receiver Savion Jackson for helping him get outside yardage last week, while Johnson credited fullback Rashad Wilson and his offensive line of sophomore Elon Mondy, freshman Zach Hoffmann, senior Aaron Kull, freshman Isaiah Im and junior Zach Angles.
“I was worried about our offense line in the offseason because we had one kid break his leg and two others quit. But it’s becoming a strength,” Johnson said. “They didn’t know what they didn’t know at the beginning of the year. I love their tenacity. They go after people. They don’t care how old they are.”
Parker said a pair of wins has done wonders for the Pioneers.
“It’s amazing. I love it,” he said. “I love the atmosphere. The family aspect of this entire team is amazing. It's an ongoing current of enjoyment.”