Parks wrapping up historic senior season
Michael Riccio – Sports Editor
Eli Parks, senior running back for the Owls, “fits right in” with “a long line of great running backs” that have been at Southern, head football coach Tom Godek said.
Parks leads the NE10 with 1,013 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. He became the first Owls running back since John Moscatel in 2013 with at least 1,000 rushing yards in a season. However, Parks said he does not pay attention to any statistics he is compiling this season.
“I see it now on social media a lot,” Parks said. “But every week I just try to shy away from looking at that stuff and just take it week-by-week.”
Parks began playing football in sixth grade and always had an interest in playing because of his father, Billy. Billy Parks played running back for University of Connecticut in the ‘80s and led the Huskies in rushing yards in 1983 and 1984.
“My dad really instilled hard work into me and made me who I am today pretty much,” Parks said.
At St. Paul Catholic High School in Bristol, Parks graduated as the all-time leader in rushing yards. In his senior season in 2014, Parks ran for 2,305 yards and 35 touchdowns in 11 games in, according to hudl. Parks was not named to any All-State teams, though, and said his biggest obstacle was overcoming those who doubted him.
“I had a great year,” Parks said. “I didn’t go All-State and that was one of my goals. I used that fire to bring me here.”
Godek said Jack Cooper, the Owls recruiting coordinator in 2014, noticed Parks at a couple games. Parks’ head coach at St. Paul’s, Jude Kelly, was a former player at Southern in 1972 and 1973.
“There was a little bit of a connection there to help us get him into the mix,” Godek said. “We were very happy he came down for his visit and shortly thereafter he decided to come to Southern Connecticut as a student-athlete.”
Copper, who is now in his first season as the defensive quality control coach at University of Nebraska, said Parks was one of the Owls “major priorities that year” and was a fit from an academic standpoint as well.
“His head coach in high school is a legendary coach and he had a lot of great things to say about him and we trusted his evaluation,” Cooper said. “We saw him play live and he was a fierce competitor. We loved the way he ran the ball and thought he was a fit culture-wise with what Coach Godek was trying to do.”
Cooper’s main priority for recruiting was Connecticut high school players. He said it was important to get a lot of Connecticut players, especially Parks.
“He was one of the major guys that we wanted,” Cooper said. “We knew we needed a running back, especially with the offense and how Coach Bergeski is running the ball, so we knew we needed a good back from Connecticut.”
Parks said Southern’s atmosphere stood out to him on his visit, and although two other schools looked at him, he said he was very interested in Southern.
In Parks’ freshman season, he only appeared in four games and did not have any rushing attempts. In his sophomore year, he ran for 451 yards and four touchdowns while splitting time with Vochan Fowler, who ran for 666 yards.
Parks saw an uptick in playing time as a junior last year. He led the team in rushing attempts, with 139, and rushing yards, with 756, for the first time while adding eight touchdowns. Parks said Fowler made him work hard to become better and more consistent as player.
“He made me compete every day,” Parks said. “We still compete every day, so he definitely helped me through the years.”
Godek said because of the rotation of running backs the last few seasons, Parks has been able to remain durable even though he takes “a lot of beatings back there” as a running back.
Even though he was not starting until this season, quarterback Matt Sanzaro, a redshirt junior and captain, said Parks had a big impact on him as a teammate and has always been a leader on and off the field.
“I was pretty close with Eli throughout all my years here,” Sanzaro said. “I knew him before coming here actually and we were just tight. We would always lift together, workout in the offseason together, and we’ve been good friends since coming here.”
Parks began his senior season by rushing for 127 yards and four touchdowns at Gannon University, including the game-winning touchdown with 55 seconds left in the game. It was the Owls first win against Gannon since 2007, and in the process, Parks became the first Owl to rush for touchdowns in a game since Moscatel in 2013.
“It was crazy,” Parks said. “The atmosphere there, being away on the road, especially in Pennsylvania, it was a great feeling. The team was energized. It was a crazy, crazy game. It’s definitely one of the games I’ll remember the most at Southern.”
Parks then ran for 135 yards against Bentley, therefore becoming the first Owls running back to rush for at least 100 yards in back-to-back games to start a year since Brandon Toles in 2007. Two weeks later, Parks ran for 140 yards in a win over Stonehill, this third 100-yard game in the season’s first four games. Parks then added two touchdowns in a win against St. Anslem before the Owls headed into their bye week.
Godek said before the bye week, Parks had suffered a lower body injury. He said he had to work hard to get himself ready to play against Assumption, the defending conference champions, after the bye week.
“He found time during his day to go to the athletic training room twice a day to get treatment to get himself ready to play the following week,” Godek said. “If any young player is wondering how to do it right, all you need to do is look at Eli Parks. From the weight room, from taking care of himself with his school work, taking care of himself with his personal life, he’s a great example of what we’re trying to recruit here and the big picture.”
Even though the Owls lost in overtime, Parks ran for 150 yards. Then during the Homecoming Game against American International, Parks again scored four touchdowns while adding 161 rushing yards during an Owls win. During Saturday’s game against Pace, Parks ran for 146 yards during an overtime loss, his sixth 100-yard game of the year and third straight game with at least 140 rushing yards.
Parks became the first Owls running back to rush for at least 140 yards in three straight games since Rashaad Slowley did so from Oct. 22 to Nov. 12, 2011.
“He’s worked his tail off, so he deserves this,” Sanzaro said. “It really comes as no surprise that he’s doing all this.”
Parks said he has been able to elevate his game this year because of his work in the offseason.
“It started back in the winter right after the season,” Parks said. “I got right back in the weight room and went into the spring, studied film, what I can do better. Summer came, I did field work every day after work, weight room every day, and then went into the season and this is how I am now.”
Sanzaro said he is “extremely comfortable” when Parks is in the backfield with him and it helps make his job easier. He said he opens the passing game up and makes it easier to have a balanced offense because defenses are so focused on him.
“The defense packs the box and for play action passes there’s four defensive backs,” Sanzaro said. “We’re running concepts that it’s easy to beat those four defensive backs and leaves guys wide open. It just opens up play action greatly.”
With the Owls next game being Senior Day and against LIU Post, the no. 17 ranked team in DII, Parks said he is looking forward to it.
“I’m hoping to have a good game,” Parks said. “Looking to end this tenure here at home with a win.”
Although Parks said he has no regrets as a student-athlete, he is sad it is coming to an end. He said the family atmosphere that was created during his four years stood out to him the most, especially his class.
“All through freshman year to now, our program has changed,” Parks said. “I feel like we changed it for the better, and the older guys above us leaving it better than they found it and we’re going to leave it better than we found it.”
Photo Credit: Southernctowls.com