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By Terry Foster: Corey Parker and River Rouge, a perfect match (Story)
Standing in a sea of activity and noise outside Panther Stadium in River Rouge, Corey Parker acts as traffic cop, coach and promotor of the Panther brand.
Parker is lead man of a group of swash bucklers, who helped transform a once morbid program that endured seven straight losing seasons, into a thing of beauty. This is why people show up here whenever the Panthers play.
Parker is River Rouge’s Black Panther, part healer, mentor and super hero to this community and program that plays in the shadows of drug infested streets, the steel mills and Ford Motor Company. It is a tough blue collar town that abuts Southwest Detroit and the Detroit River. River Rouge is hardly Wakanda, but Parker’s men created a thing of beauty and pain inside Panthers Stadium, which has become a downriver jewel.
River Rouge is 33-6 the last three seasons and finished 11-2 last season while winning a third straight Michigan Metro Athletic Conference title. And the team is gunning this season for its first state title under Parker and second overall.
Parker is the enthusiastic do everything coach who during a recent day of scrimmages made sure his guests were comfortable, coached his football team and even took a turn at being the public address announcer.
Parker feels most comfortable in this environment of extended family – the players, the fans and parents. He enjoys the buzz and noise that has become a part of River Rouge football. He’s happy he did not listen to peers who told him not to take the job because it was a bad environment that could not be mended.
What he found was a community ready to be embraced and entertained.
“Community input is everything,” Parker said. “We’ve made this thing a place of excitement and amusement and entertainment for the families that live in this community. The greatest thing is they can come right outside their doors, walk over here to the stadium and watch their nephews, younger cousins, sons and grandsons play. So we are excited to be the football team of Southwest Detroit. We are excited about the brand of football we play. We know we have not won a state championship yet. But at the end of the day we are creating a good place for teenagers to come and have a good time and learn how to play.”
So why did Parker leave Inkster and his mentor Greg Carter to build the impossible dream? Despite the bad vibes spread about River Rouge and the poor results on the field he knew the city was filled with good people and good athletes. Once upon a time Rouge dominated boy’s basketball, winning 12 Class B titles under Lofton Green.
Parker knew River Rouge had good athletes. And he knew it had good people too because he married the 2001 class valedictorian, Autumn Parker.
River Rouge reached the Division 5 Finals a few years ago and lost in the Division 4 semifinals last year. So this is a program inching toward the ultimate prize. Parker said the 2018 edition is the deepest team in school history.
“Our goal every year is to get back (to the state finals),” Parker said. “We just have to figure out a way to finish against good teams.”
The Panthers should be solid from start to finish. Cornerback/slot receiver and return man Daraun McKinney is one of the best pure athletes in the state, setting state records last season with eight kickoff returns and five punt returns for touchdowns.
Then there is the “Nigerian Nightmare” Ruke Orhorhoro, who dominates the defensive line and recently committed to play at Clemson, which now boasts the best DL in college football.
Dual-threat quarterback Emanuel Ferguson signed with Air Force after passing for more than 1,500 yards and running for 700 more last season.
Each of these players carry a better than 3.0 grade point average and have paved the way for junior stand outs Xavier Smith (WR), Rmontaye Caldwell (WR) and Deandre Bulley (athlete) who will spear head the program in 2019.
River Rouge is solid defensively but is hot red offensively. The idea will be to spread teams and gash them with solid 200-pound running backs.
This team is about community and bonding. It is clear that players love one another. They cheer big hits, encourage those that make mistakes and act as family. That begins with Monday through Thursday team bonding after school in the winter and spring.
Players don’t go home after school. They instead stay at The Rouge for study hall, weight lifting, dinner and downright clownery. Parker does this for two reasons. It’s fun and it prevents his boys from being caught up in the streets or being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
“I get to watch my kids,” Parker said. “I don’t have to worry about my kids being drug abused or being in the streets because they are with me Monday through Thursday.”
There are no team activities on Friday because players make up the student section for the boys basketball games.
“We’ve created a system that gives us a chance against good programs,” Parker said.
This is the community Rouge’s Black Panther created. It is filled with love, male bonding, community and success.