Albion College running back Colin Parks is in the middle of his best season at the collegiate level.
Lost in the gaudy statistics – 638 rushing yards and a team-best 11 rushing touchdowns – is the fact that it didn't just happen suddenly. Parks made a successful transition to college – academically and athletically – because he had good mentors to get him started on the right path.
That experience is fueling Parks' desire to be a valuable and impactful mentor to an Albion first-year student through the College's Smooth Transitions program, which assists students from underrepresented populations.
"The support system from the football program – teammates and coaches – and Smooth Transitions made [the transition from Lathrup High School to Albion] a lot easier," Parks said. "I needed good vibes, people I could talk to. I needed advice from people who had experienced things before."
Among the men who paved the way on the football field were all-Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association running backs Clinton Orr and Darrin Williams. Orr, the league's Offensive Most Valuable Player in 2011, left as the program's all-time rushing leader with 3,912 yards, and Williams was the leading rusher as Albion ran the table against its league rivals in 2013.
"It was a tough transition to collegiate football because the only thing we ran [in high school] was the wing T," he added. "As a running back, they would toss me the ball and I would follow the pulling guard on 80 percent of the plays. It's a more complex offense here and I had a hard time my first year. I put a lot of time in to studying plays and learning techniques."
Still working to perfect skills
Time management is a skill many college-age students work to develop, and for Parks it is no different. While it's easy to rattle off priorities--academics, football, taking care of personal needs through diet and sufficient sleep--he admitted that setting aside distractions is a challenge.
"I have to be motivated to get the work done instead of taking a nap or playing video games," Parks said.
An exercise science major, Parks says he has learned the best way to retain information is to review the material or to speak to the professor immediately after class. A typical fall-semester day has Parks in an early-morning football meeting followed by a biomechanics class at 8 a.m. He takes two other classes, but one important standing appointment in Parks' schedule is his yoga class on Tuesday and Thursday to stretch the muscles before getting pre-practice treatment from the athletic training staff.
Parks has a variety of items to fill his evening hours. A member of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and Black Student Alliance, he tries to spend five hours a week with his Smooth Transitions mentee, and, of course, devote time for coursework.
"I'm lucky to be in class with my mentee, but a lot of times we meet during library hours," Parks said. "I always invite him to the recruitment events that the fraternity has for first-year students, and he attends the Black Student Alliance meetings on Monday night. We're usually doing homework or he comes to the fraternity house for dinner. I try to expose him to the organizations I'm involved in.
"Mentoring is important to me because it is easy for first-year students to get lost in the distractions when you are away from home and doing your own thing," Parks added. "I stress the responsibility of being a student-athlete with my mentee (who happens to be an aspiring outfielder on the baseball team). There are people watching you all the time and that's why it's important to behave all the time. And I stress the importance of asking for help because that can be difficult."
College Chaplain Dan McQuown says Parks has gained the trust of his peers.
"Colin is a great mentor because he cares deeply," McQuown said. "He has values he holds dear and lives out every day."
Parks will use his degree to become a physical therapist or, at the very least, a certified trainer. He admits the health background in his family is not good and he hopes to be a mentor not only to his family, but the African-American community as a whole, in areas of diet and exercise.
"I want to help the African-American community as far as physical well-being," Parks said. "There are a lot of things I believe I can help prevent by providing them with the knowledge that I have access to here at Albion College. Even in my household, I'm trying to get my mom on a better diet and my sister and dad to start incorporating exercise."