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"I always knew going into the game that Samie Parker was going to show up, compete and play his balls off," says Tim Rattay, a teammate of Parker's during the 2010 season in Las Vegas and wide receiver coach the following year. "If we needed a big play, he was going to be the guy who made it."
Parker played 11 games for the AFL's Chicago Rush in 2010, catching 78 passes for 1,135 yards and 15 touchdowns (compiling fairly similar stats to his four-year career totals in the NFL). Thousand-yard receivers are in high demand in the AFL, and the Command has three of them with Parker, Bret Smith (the team's leading receiver from the 2011 season) and Syvelle Newton.
Parker has spent most of the morning engaging the younger receivers, explaining a blocking assignment on a "bubble screen" — a short pass in the flat, where a receiver takes a step forward before reversing field and moving toward the quarterback to catch a pass behind a theoretical wall of blockers — or congratulating them on a catch.
Parker knows what it's like to be Anthony Parks, a former Olathe East High School standout, who is hoping he can stick around longer than the two-day contract he signed in mid-February. Parker went through the same training-camp battles four years ago, attempting to learn playbooks between drills with names he just learned in the huddle.
"Samie is going to be a huge benefit to the young guys on the roster," says head coach Danton Barto. "He's easygoing, one of those veterans that wants to help guys learn. I like that he's talkative and easygoing until he steps on the field, and then he's all business. Not everybody knows how to switch it on and off."
The Command practice ends just before 11 a.m. with a team recitation of the Lord's Prayer. Parker, Smith and Newton stay on the field to run 15-yard corner routes. Balls keep sailing long. The timing isn't there yet.
"He can still run," Barto says.
Parker plants his left foot, leaves a defensive back flat-footed and bursts free toward the sideline. The ball arrives after he has made his break, but Parker adjusts backward and tucks it under the arm of his sweat-soaked gray undershirt.
Parker can run, but can he catch on? That's the question that Parker has to answer for himself. He wants to know if he's good enough to still play in the league. The average NFL career is three and a half years. Parker had four. But he wants more. He figures he has two more years, and maybe one more shot at a training camp, before he stops playing and pursues coaching.
Playing in a system where he might see 10 to 12 passes a game, Parker just wants to be seen — by his daughter, by scouts, and by his younger brother who continues to work on his own NFL dreams.
Parker's green eyes flash as he looks up from the metallic bench where he's being interviewed, realizing he doesn't see any of his teammates nearby.
"I've got to go," Parker says, scooping up his cleats and the white tape he just peeled off his wrists. "I don't want to miss my ride. I didn't drive here."
Then he does what he does best. He runs.