NORMAL — We’ve all met that ultra-competitive person we hate facing as an opponent but love when he or she is on our side.
That was the kind of person University of Illinois-Chicago soccer coach Sean Phillips was looking for when he offered Parker Theobald a scholarship, which the Normal West High School star accepted.
Theobald, who also plays for Central Illinois United, is a midfielder with 75 career goals and 46 assists including 24 goals and 10 assists this season.
He came to UIC’s attention when he scored twice in his club’s 4-3 win over Chicago-based FC United, which was coached by Minos Vlamakis, an associate head coach at UIC.
“After the game, (Vlamakis) said to me, ‘I love that kid. He's good and he's ornery. I love ornery kids,’” said Val Walker, who coaches both Central Illinois United and Normal West.
When Phillips saw Theobald play, the Wildcats lost to Peoria Notre Dame, 5-0.
“He loved the fact that even in a situation like that, Parker didn’t fall apart,” Walker said. “He still worked his tail off and the coach respected that. The story there is that even on your bad days, it’s a great recruiting day.”
The day has yet to arrive in practice where Theobald takes it easy.
“Parker never loses a drill in practice,” Walker said. “We do a lot of drills where there is a winner and a loser. You can rest assured, if you’re on Parker’s team, you’re going to win, and if you’re not on Parker’s team, you’re going to lose.
“He has to win. He always has to win. If I were a college coach, I want that guy on my team … a guy who never loses a drill, never loses a race whether long or short, never loses anything. Some days it gets old, but most days, that’s the guy you want.”
The past four years, West has gone 61-25-10 with Theobald in the lineup.
“Our team has turned a corner,” said Walker, whose 17-5-2 squad has won seven of its last eight games. “He has been one of the reasons.”
Theobald notes, “Since we went up to the Burlington Tournament, I think we kind of realized we need to play together. Beating Community (4-0) has given us momentum.”
Theobald's impact on teammates became clear when he had to miss a week of practice.
“The competition level was low,” Walker recalls. “No one had any energy. There was no vibe; nobody getting after it.”
Walker subsequently named Theobald a co-captain. Theobald says his love of soccer comes from his competitive nature.
"I think I was born competitive," he said, "but then soccer and other things brought it out more.”
Theobald grew up watching older sisters Madisen and Keely play soccer all over the nation.
“It’s always been a part of my life,” he said. “Coach Walker, he’s been my coach since age 5. He has taught me everything about the game.”
A future business major, Theobald also considered Eastern Illinois, Northern Illinois and Maryville. He chose UIC because of its success in soccer. The reigning Horizon League Tournament champion Flames are 9-3-1 this fall after going 11-6-3 last season.
“I like all the coaches,” added Theobald. “They have the right style of soccer I want to play.”
That style makes possessing the ball a priority.
“When I took my official visit, I got to stay the night and hang out with the guys,” he added. “They were all really good and they felt like family to me."