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The Daily Tar Heel

Parker Quiets Rumors With Emergence

Parker, North Carolina's starting tailback coming out of spring practice, had dropped to third on the depth chart. He was still attempting to overcome a back injury that had hampered him through the Tar Heels' first five games.

The Tar Heels had a bye week, and Parker went to his hometown of Clinton to relax from the pressures of an already frustrating season.

But the scene that Parker returned to was anything but therapeutic.

People flocked to Parker's house to ask him why he wasn't playing. Rumors circulated through the town that Parker was in UNC coach Carl Torbush's doghouse. Or he had gotten lazy. Maybe he wasn't hitting the holes hard enough.

"I went into the season starting, but I didn't have any answers because I didn't feel like telling everybody how I got hurt and everything," Parker said.

Parker has answered any lingering questions about his play the last two weeks. After totaling 50 rushing yards in UNC's first seven games, Parker has rushed for 132 yards in the last two weeks.

Parker has once again found the form that made him UNC's starter leading up to the season opener against Tulsa. But the journey has not been an easy one.

Parker's back started giving him trouble this summer while he worked out at 6 a.m. in the Kenan Stadium concourse. The back would tighten up, but a training-room diagnosis revealed that it was just strained. Then, before one preseason practice, Parker heard his back pop.

"I couldn't hardly walk off the field," Parker said. "I told them I knew something like that was going to happen."

The hard work Parker had put in after redshirting the year before was in danger of going to waste. He scored two touchdowns against Tulsa, but Brandon Russell was in the process of solidifying himself as the starting tailback.

UNC's coaches told Parker to sit out if he couldn't go full speed, but he persevered. As the weeks progressed, he began to feel like his old self. But Parker's teammates were convinced he still looked a step slower. Parker went to the film room to get a look for himself.

"I feel a certain way when I'm out on the field, but when I looked at myself on tape, I looked like the slowest person in the world," Parker said.

Parker kept fighting. He didn't want to let himself or his family down. Game days didn't exactly help his spirits. Parker didn't have a carry for a stretch of four consecutive games.

The competition for playing time never created ill feelings between Parker, Russell or Andre Williams. Russell and Williams both told Parker to keep his head up, that his chance would come.

Parker believed them. He looked at his lack of playing time as an opportunity to get his back healthy.

"I fought through it the whole while," Parker said. "By sitting out those games, that really healed it up."

Parker said he has felt fine for the last three of four weeks - approximately the time that has passed since his trip to Clinton.

His numbers support that. Parker took advantage of his first real opportunity to play by picking up 71 yards on 17 carries against Virginia.

After that game, Parker started hearing from his friends in Clinton again. Only this time, they were calling for different reasons. And they were calling a lot.

Parker had to take his phone off the hook before he went to bed to avoid waking up to the sounds of constant ringing at 9 a.m. The same people who had bad-mouthed him were now jumping on his bandwagon.

Parker, on the other hand, never lost faith in himself.

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"The first or second week of the season, I wasn't healthy," Parker said. "I was playing hurt, trying to be a hero. Now I'm healthy, jumping around, flying around like I used to."

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