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TAKING A FLING : Former CS Northridge Quarterback Chris Parker Earns a Shot With the Rams After Stops in Two Foreign Leagues

June 09, 1989|STEVE SPRINGER | Times Staff Writer

If he hadn't thought he'd look awfully silly, Chris Parker , 24 , might have pinched himself.

He tried to keep a hold on reality as he trotted up to the center and bent over to take the snap. He tried to concentrate on the job at hand, but his mind kept wandering. He was supposed to be looking over the defense, but all he seemed able to flash on was their helmets. And those of the offensive line immediately in front of him. And the one he was wearing.

Growing up in Southern California, it was a helmet he had seen often, but only from afar. Emblazoned across it were the distinctive horns of the Los Angeles Rams.

"What am I doing here?" he asked himself.

What indeed?

Parker could hardly be classified as a blue-chip recruit. After playing mostly as a defensive back at St. Thomas Aquinas High in San Bernardino County, he enrolled at Saddleback College in Orange County, where he played both free safety and quarterback. But not much of either.

"I just didn't feel," he said, "that I was given an opportunity."

So the next year, he moved to San Bernardino Valley College, where he beat out the competition to finally become a starting quarterback.

Onward and upward. But to where?

His choice of a four-year school came down to Cal State Northridge, in Division II of the NCAA, or the University of New Mexico, a Division I program.

The problem was that Parker didn't hear from New Mexico until the week before school started. He was contacted on a Thursday and would have been required to start classes the following Monday.

"Why did you wait so long?" he asked a New Mexico official.

"We just overlooked you," Parker was told.

His parents, Ted and Jane, pushed for Northridge.

"You can be a big fish in a little pond," Parker's father told him. "What's worth more to you, to say you played at a big school or to say you played ?"

Parker headed for the little pond. But even there, he hardly arrived with a big splash. It was more like a dash of cold water in the face when he got his first look at the depth chart. Among quarterbacks, Parker was listed fifth .

"Wow," he told himself, "welcome to big-time football."

Hunched over the center, Parker, 6-foot-1, 194 pounds, looked down the line, first to the left, then to the right. "I'm about to run a play for the Los Angeles Rams," he told himself. "Nobody here is going to do anything until I call the cadence. Everything is waiting on me. This is pretty neat."

He clapped his wrists together and, in a loud voice, barked out the signals.

Parker wasn't fifth on the CSUN depth chart for long. Coach Tom Keele was installing a radical new offense, the run-and-shoot, and he decided Parker was the guy to do the running and shooting.

"It was tough," Parker said of an offense based on the ability to improvise at the line of scrimmage. "You had to read the defense and the receiver had to read the defense and go from there.

"You know, it sounds kind of funny, but it was a shock to me because I never did that before. Throughout high school and junior college, I had never been taught to read a defense."

Because the quarterback and the receiver in the run-and-shoot have to operate on the same page in order to come to the same conclusion without benefit of a huddle, it helps if they have more than a passing acquaintance with each other.

That was not the case when Parker took over at Northridge in 1985, but he still did well enough in his first season to rewrite a few pages in the CSUN record book.

Parker completed 232 of 424 passes for 2,658 yards and 19 touchdowns. The attempts and completions, along with the 2,773 yards in total offense he generated, were school records. As a punter, Parker averaged 40.6 yards and one of his 48 punts traveled 72 yards.

A year later, Keele was gone and so was the run-and-shoot. Bob Burt, the new Matador coach, went back to the conventional I-formation and, although Parker's numbers dropped, the number in the all-important win column went up. Parker passed just 158 times, completing 81 for 1,167 yards and a dozen touchdowns. He also punted 44 times for 1,763 yards (40.1 average). But CSUN's record improved from 4-7 to 8-3 and the Matadors came within one minute in their final conference game of claiming the Western Football Conference title.

Parker's collegiate career was over, but not, he hoped, his football career. Coming out of Northridge, he didn't figure to get much of a look from the National Football League, so he opted for the Canadian Football League and drew some interest from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the spring of 1987.

"I pretty much neglected everyone else," Parker said, "and put all my eggs in one basket."

That turned out to be an ill-fated move because Parker's chances proved as fragile as an egg shell. Winnipeg turned thumbs down on him and he wound up working at a Woodland Hills health club.

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