Todd Parker has tried and tried but he just hasn't been able to develop a liking for Southern California. To the Golden West College running back, it has too many freeways, too many buildings and too many people.
Forget the beaches and sunshine. Everything considered, Parker would rather be in Gautier, Miss., the tiny, rural town he left five years ago when his family moved to Orange County.
Gautier isn't glamorous, and neither is Parker. He's the kind of guy who prefers a pickup to a Porsche. What are his hobbies? Not skiing, tennis, traveling or anything even slightly cosmopolitan. Parker likes to fish for trout and hunt squirrels.
Why, the 21-year-old even enjoyed Golden West's recent trip to Taft, though the Rustlers lost to the defending national champion Cougars, 31-10. That's because the barren landscape of the isolated central California city reminded him so much of Gautier.
"Taft is a one-street city, just like it was at home," Parker said in his soft drawl. "It felt like I had gone back home.
"It's still culture shock for me living in Huntington Beach. From someone from the country, it's like the big, big city here. Gautier was so small, it didn't even have its own high school. It was in the next city over."
Parker's homesickness has never been so severe as to make him consider leaving Golden West, and Ray Shackleford, Rustler coach, is glad of that. Parker was a versatile member of the team last year, and is proving to be even more valuable this season.
The 5-foot 11-inch sophomore from Ocean View High School enjoyed the best night of his career last Saturday as he rushed for 180 yards and a touchdown on 38 carries in Golden West's first win of the season, a 42-25 Pac-9 victory over Pasadena City.
On the season, Parker has gained 437 yards, already surpassing his 1984 total of 373.
"Todd is a real complete player," Shackleford said. "He led us in rushing last year, and he was right up their in pass receptions, too. He even threw two touchdown passes on halfback options.
"He's easy to coach because he's such a homespun kid. When you talk to him, he always answers, 'Yes sir or no sir.' He shows everyone he deals with a lot of respect."
In most aspects of his life, Parker is laid-back. But not when it comes to football. On the field, he is obsessed with succeeding.
Since Parker played at a high school that was regularly embarrassed by its Sunset League rivals, he rarely received any attention. About the only time he was able to see his name in the newspapers was when the All-Sunset League team was announced at the end of the season.
"It was tough always reading about Dave Geroux at Edison, or Eric Emery at Fountain Valley, or Danny Thompson at Huntington Beach, but never getting any recognition yourself," Parker said.
"But I knew things would be different at Golden West. They have a good program here. If I do well here, people will notice what kind of player I am."
In community college football today:
San Diego Mesa (2-0, 3-1) vs. Saddleback (2-0, 4-0), Saddleback Field, 7:30--The Gauchos, the third-ranked team in the nation and second-ranked team in the Southland, will be seeking their 46th consecutive home win against the Olympians. Saddleback used the passing of Jason Schmid (250 yards and two touchdowns) and kicking of Tracy Rutkowski (four field goals) to defeat Riverside City, 33-18, last week in the first of three consecutive key conference games. After San Diego Mesa, Saddleback plays undefeated Southwestern. A victory over both gives the Gauchos a good chance at going undefeated in the regular season. "The next two games will be the season for us," Ken Swearingen, Saddleback coach, said. "This is a tough little stretch. But we signed up to play, so we've got to play." Tonight, the Gauchos will have to contain San Diego Mesa's prolific passing game, which overwhelmed Rancho Santiago last week in the Olympians' 38-27 win. Olympian quarterback David Darroch riddled the Dons' secondary for 19 completions in 36 attempts, 232 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Riverside City (1-1, 2-2) vs. Orange Coast (0-1, 0-2-1), LeBard Stadium, 7:30--Four weeks into the season, the Pirates are still looking for their first win. Chances are that they'll still be looking for it after tonight. Riverside City has one of the best rushing attacks in pass-happy community college football, averaging 261 yards per game. Clark Brown (76 carries, 372 yards and 5 touchdowns) and Mike Moore (48 carries, 429 yards and 3 touchdowns) make up the conference's top rushing tandem. They run behind an all-sophomore offensive line that returns three all-conference selections. One thing in Orange Coast's favor is the fact it is not playing an Orange County opponent. The Pirates' 27-15 loss to Saddleback two weeks ago gave them an abysmal 2-20-2 record in their last 24 games against county rivals.