Small town football star makes big impression at Texas Tech

Texas Tech Red Raider Justus Parker to play at 2017 Birmingham Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 23. (Justus Parker)

New England Patriots players video message to Justus Parker

Pride of La Vernia, Texas sends love to his community

Shallen Parker answered a call Monday from her youngest son, but “the sound of his voice scared me…cause he was crying.”

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The former La Vernia, Texas, High School football star, now Texas Tech Red Raider sophomore defensive back Justus Parker, wanted to share shocking news that occurred just moments before in Lubbock.

“I did it Mom,” Justus announced.

For a second, her mind went numb. Since age five, Justus has been consistently confident and excelled in sports.  The Parkers “lived in La Vernia for 30 years raising our family,” she said Tuesday. “He is the baby and grew up in every sport possible.  From St. Ann’s CYO to the La Vernia Grizzlies (Pop Warner) to La Vernia High School, he’s always been a great athlete.”

“He’s not a child you had to make go to practice, but one that was ready for two to three sports at a time,” his mother explained.  Not since junior high school, when “he tore his meniscus,” Justus had to sit out of sports. It was for “four weeks. You would have thought that was the end of the world.”

It became his second nature to tear down obstacles, overcome hurdles and contradict cynics, but last year, Justus’ fate forced him to sit out for a complete season. Following his freshman season playing football for the Division III Texas Lutheran University in nearby Seguin, he had his dreams set on Division I play. His former high school coach, Bo Robinson talked to Texas Tech recruiters.

“…if they gave him a shot, he was going to be a player for them,” Coach Robinson stated. “He was going to take somebody’s spot.”

Justus, with his parents JD and Shaleen Parker (Facebook)

But transferring to Texas Tech as a walk on required Parker to sit out for one season, something he hadn’t done since junior high. In the meantime he conditioned, studied and prepared. This season he earned his way as becoming a powerful defensive contributor for the Red Raiders and even won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors three times.

Shaleen said the family worked “for a week straight that Christmas trying to get all the paperwork in to be accepted by these schools. It was fast and stressful enrollment process.”

“On Christmas Day the acceptance came in and a week later we were moving him to Tech,” she recalls. “He asked to believe in him. We were a nervous wreck that whole month since their try out process was the first week of February in 32 degree weather. His hands were frozen but he got Coach Gibbs to look at him and made the team as a walk on.”

Waiting for this season, when he could finally play again, “wasn’t easy but nothing ever is for Justus,” his mother said. “He had to fight his way through the scout team, getting beat down and sitting out a year, but he grew and matured. Spring games this year were good but he was still learning their defense. It was difficult and full time school and full time football is not easy. The start of this season he was on kick off and went in on third and long but wasn’t getting much playing time. That gave him the motivation he needed and pushed himself.”

Justus was calling his parents each week with encouragement.

“The season just started Mom,” she remembers him saying. “Just watch me and wait for it. You and Daddy are my why. Ya’ll believed in me.”

“Financially paying these last two years has been a lot,” Shaleen said. Her and husband, JD Parker, have been experiencing a bit of empty nest syndrome since Justus moved to Lubbock. They bought a home in Rockport, but “with the hurricane (Harvey) and JD being a diabetic, we’ve been working our butts off to pay for it all and send him money to eat and live because football and school full time is a lot. There is no way for him to have a part time job.  But it was all worth it.”

Justus’s “story is pretty incredible,” notes Texas Tech Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury, in an interview with The Daily Toreador. “He … has worked really hard and started at the very bottom, and to see him go out there and make plays is just inspiring, really, because he had every reason to give up or quit. So, really proud of him and how far he’s come.”

When Justus called Monday to declare, “I did it Mom,” Shaleen wasn’t prepared for the quivering in his voice.

“I did it. I’m on full scholarship!”

What? Full scholarship?

Not long before he called his mother, Justus had been part of a team meeting when Coach Kingsbury suddenly presented a large screen video message for the players. The screen displayed two New England Patriots, Rob Gronkowski and former Red Raider Danny Amendola. They surprised Justus with the announcement that he was being presented with a scholarship.

Justus was “barely getting the words out and trying to explain to me who the The Gronk and Danny were,” his mother smiles. “He has been a Patriots fan his whole life even having a Fat Head of Tom Brady in his room growing up.”

It’s a dream “for them to get his favorite team to announce to him,” she continued. “Justus had a history breaking season, especially the Texas interception but for them to really put love and thought into making the day special for him–knowing his heart as an athlete–knowing all his work and extra hours and time and prayer he put into being not just an athlete bit the best athlete he can be, well, it really shows what a class act Texas Tech is. I love them for that.  Being in the Today Show and all the other media outlets are exciting but knowing that our son is smiling and happy is better than anything anyone could ever do. My heart is exploding with pride because I truly know what he has gone through to get to this point.”

Justus Parker (Red Raider media)

Tech’s season opener on Saturday, Sept. 2 against Eastern Washington was his first time on the field as a Red Raider. He had managed one solo tackle. On Sept. 16, against Arizona State he recorded one pass breakup. Against Houston on Sept. 23, he squared one quarterback hurry and one solo tackle.

But the “Kansas game was his big start and the rest is history,” his mother beams. “What a dream we are living. He has always been part of First Baptist Church in La Vernia and has always been faithful. He was a big part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, being an officer, and the ACTS retreat of St. Ann’s.  His strength and faith is inspiring.”

It was the Kansas game that Justus earned one solo tackle, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery for 20 yards, one interception for 25 yards and one pass breakup. His momentum has been building.

Justus has proven himself with not only 42 tackles this season, but a fumble recovery for a touchdown. He is leading Texas Tech with four interceptions, including the interception of Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger throw in the fourth quarter giving them a 27-23 win over the Longhorns.

Texas Tech plays South Florida in the 2017 Birmingham Bowl this Saturday. They arrived in Alabama Tuesday and held practice Wednesday. Justus enjoyed meeting with the media prior to visiting the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute that afternoon. Thursday the team will visit the Children’s of Alabama Hospital after their morning practice. Fans arriving in Birmingham will be joining the Red Raiders at the Uptown Street Fest & Pep Rally on Friday, Dec. 22, from 1-6 p.m., with the official Texas Tech Pep Rally beginning at 5 p.m.

As Shaleen Parker thinks about her son, she reflects on “how much he loves La Vernia, his friends, family and his coaches for always believing in him. God is so good and He definitely had a hand in making his dreams come true this Christmas. He had a plaque in his dorm that he had by his bed that he said over and over before the Texas Tech walk on try outs: ‘I can do all things through Christ whom Strengthens me.’  You gotta believe!”

This week, Justus identified himself on Twitter as a “Safety for Texas Tech University. Turning my Dream into my Reality.”


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