Opposing quarterbacks may fear being tackled by University of Richmond defensive lineman Martin Parker more than any other player on the team, but the terrorizing tackler describes himself as a teddy bear.
"I'm a different kind of football player," Parker said. "I like romance movies. The sappy romantic stuff."
Parker, whose 6-foot 3-inches and 300 pound frame make him stand out wherever he goes, doesn't mind being different.
"I'm going to do some things that make you laugh," he said.
Proof came this summer, when Parker used special shorts to break a Richmond football weightlifting record at the squat exercise.
A man doing a squat places a barbell across his shoulders, lowers his body until the knees are parallel to the floor, and then returns to an upright position. Parker completed the lift using 640 pounds.
Before the exercise, Parker cut out the connecting fabric of his practice shorts, turning the shorts into an article of clothing that resembled a short skirt.
"[The shorts] help me with my aerodynamics," Parker said.
He continued to wear his special shorts throughout summer workouts and into this season. When Parker runs, the shorts inflate like a parachute, exposing only Parker's black compression shorts and enormous thighs. He has even started a trend on the team.
"I got [linebacker] Eric McBride to cut out his shorts too, and [running back] Tyler Kirchoff might do it," Parker said. "It's a fashion statement."
During team bus trips, Parker is also superstitious about where he sits.
"Four rows behind the coaches on the right side, in front of the TV and across from [linebacker] Patrick Weldon," he said. "I've been sitting in that seat for four years."
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Football team manager Hannah Ramsey said that during a trip on which the team brought its own medical staff, doctors had been forced to sit with the managers so Parker and Weldon could each have rows to themselves. Parker said he didn't feel bad about inconveniencing the medical staff.
"If sitting in the same seat helps you win the game then you have to sit there," he said.
Parker admitted he was the most superstitious player on the Spider roster. He broke his chinstrap during a game this season, but wouldn't let the equipment staff throw it away. He kept the chinstrap in his locker with an old Richmond jersey and a pair of torn up kneepads.
"I don't get rid of those things because I think they're as much a part of me as my body, my muscles," he said.
Parker said he had to break a superstition about stepping on the sidelines when he ran on and off the field.
"In the 2008 season, if I stepped on the line with my right foot coming on the field, I'd have to step on it with my left foot when I came off," he said. "It really messed me up thinking about it, so I had to break the habit."
Parker's antics, as strange as they seem, have been an asset to the Spider defense. He said the motto of the defense was to have fun, and Parker embodies that attitude. During a game against Villanova, Parker's relaxed demeanor helped the defense come out of a slump.
"In the first half we were really quiet," he said. "[Linebacker] Darius McMillan told me, 'I haven't see you dancing.' I started dancing, and everybody laughed, including the Villanova offensive line. Then we started playing Richmond football."
The Spiders, who struggled to slow Villanova's offense early in the game, kept Villanova without a first down in the third quarter.
"[The defense] plays best when we're not taking the game too serious," Parker said. "I'm going to be the same person on the field as I am off the field. Why would I change?"
But Parker's casualness should not be confused with his work ethic. During the offseason, he added more than 20 pounds to his already massive physique.
"I knew I had to be an impact player on this team, and I needed to add weight to do that," Parker said. "When I put my mind to something, I do it."
His hard work and talent has drawn the attention of scouts, many of whom believe Parker could play in the NFL next year. But Parker said he didn't feel any added pressure.
"Like Coach [Latrell] Scott says, the only time you feel pressure is when you put pressure on yourself," he said. "And besides, there's always culinary arts school."
Mike DeGeorge, Richmond's assistant director of athletic public relations, said that statement was no joke.
"He really wants to be a chef," DeGeorge said. "That is, if he's not in the NFL next year"
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