When you talk Howard University football in 2016 and mention “The Granddaddy of them All,” the Rose Bowl isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. It’s fifth-year, redshirt senior running back William Parker, who graduates at the end of this semester and has experienced the highs and lows of Howard Bison football since he arrived at the school in 2012.
That was the last season that Howard won more games than they lost, going 7-4. Parker got his feet wet at the college level returning kickoffs and scoring a rushing TD. In 2013, the Bison posted a 6-6 record and the sophomore from Stone Mountain, Georgia was third on the team in rushing with 457 yards and a couple of scores. Howard defeated Hampton University in a dramatic 42-39 double OT win that year.
In 2014, Howard was 5-7, but Parker was second on the team in rushing with 673 yards and 7 TD's, and his stock was rising in the MEAC. Howard edged Hampton again in the final game of the season at Greene Stadium as kicker John Fleck nailed a 17-yard field goal with 21 seconds to lift the Bison to another dramatic bragging rights-inspired victory.
Parker redshirted last season’s 1-10 year, but says he felt each loss all the same. If anyone other than Coach Gary Harrell can speak on the entire Howard Bison football roller coaster of the last half decade, it’s Parker, who has lived through the best of times and worst of times, always enjoying the high moments while learning from the struggles.
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“In the moment of last year... it's always hard,” an eloquent and composed Parker told The Shadow League. “In the midst of the losing, you're trying to figure out what you're doing wrong and what you can do better. But when you step back and look at the whole situation, you learn a lot from being on a winning team and also being on a team that’s struggling. You see what works and what didn’t. You see the type of things that a team needs to do in order to be successful. So I learned a lot from last year. “
This season Parker is ready to do damage. He’s started the year off slow with 23 yards on 13 carries, but he sees the Hampton game as his turnup. The last time he faced the Pirates in 2014, he had an 8-yard score on them.
“As a player I'm a hard worker so any situation I'm put in I can give 110 percent at any given time...the whole time we are playing,” Parker told the TSL in reference to his role on the team this season. “I just want to be the leader they say I am, but also be able to serve. So if I don’t have the ball in my hands I don't want there to be a drop off in my performance. I wanna lead by my blocking or even if I’m on the sidelines keeping people’s heads up and keeping them focus when stuff happens, because stuff happens in football. It's not a game of perfection, you will have your ups and down .”
After helplessly watching his team lose in the first AT&T Nation’s Football Classic matchup between the rival HU’s, Parker says he’s looking forward to helping Howard get back on the winning end of a rivalry that dates back to the early 1900’s.
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“Howard's always supposed to beat Hampton,” Parker insisted, reinforcing the intensity of the rivalry. “You strive to win every game but certain games... you just have to win and that’s our game."
Howard got two serious warm up tests to start the season, losing to powerhouse conference schools Maryland and Rutgers.
“It’s always a good thing to start off with strong teams," Parker insisted. "For people like myself who have aspirations of playing in the NFL, you get to see how you measure up against top-level competition. You get to test everything you been working for in the summer to see where you really stand. And it’s also a new experience for a lot of guys, playing in front of 50,000 plus on a Saturday in a big stadium. You don’t get too many of those opportunities, so I enjoy it. By the time we get to the Hampton game, we feel very strong and battle-tested as a team. It’s an advantage all the way around.”
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The buzz on campus surrounding September 17th’s NFC clash is a bit more reserved than usual Parker says, but he also decrees that the students at Howard are in for a surprise.
“I don’t think it has hit anybody yet,” Parker told TSL. “I don’t think people really know what’s coming. We are going out there to play an amazing game and give our fans bragging rights for the year. “
Parker says a lot of people, "View us as a team that can’t compete based off of last year. Not making any excuses but what they fail to realize is that we were missing a lot of people and their was a lot of adversity we went through. This year we have a lot of guys back in key positions."
Those reinforcements along with having a band of brothers tight knit enough to overcome the lowest of lows is what drives Parker's optimism.
"Our team is like a family," said Parker. "A lot of us come from places that don’t allow us to go home at the drop of a hat and we are really up here all year. It makes it easy to be here with teammates who are like brothers to you. It starts to feel like home after a while."
The AT&T Nation's Football Classic® is a black college football game held annually at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. Now in its sixth year, the 2016 game features Howard University against Hampton University and will be played on Saturday, September 17.