“He was a gregarious guy who always had a big smile and our team really cared about him,” Hylton first-year coach Lou Sorrentino said. “A big reason we were successful was guys like him. In my mind, we’ll miss James more off the field than on the field. He was an outstanding person to be around.”
The 17-year-old Parker died Friday night in what police believe was an accidental shooting. Sorrentino was in North Carolina for a coaches’ clinic, but he learned of Parker’s death after returning home Saturday morning.
“It’s hard to make any sense out of it,” Sorrentino said.
Sorrentino was in the process of notifying his players Saturday evening. He had not planned a team meeting, but believed the school would take a moment to pay tribute to Parker on Monday morning.
Parker’s devotion to team was best exemplified by his eagerness to play outside linebacker instead of a more glamorous spot at running back. He played a prominent role on a defense that set a school record for fewest points allowed (4.0 a game in 14 games), capping the season with a 6-0 win in the Group AAA, Division 6 state final against Oakton on Dec. 14 in Richmond.
Though Parker knew he would have to wait until his senior season to get many carries on offense, he was more than willing to put his speed and strength to use on defense. The coaches in the Northwest Region and Cardinal District both put him on their first-team all-star teams at the end of the season, and he was also a first-team all-area selection by the Potomac News & Manassas Journal Messenger.
In his first year as a varsity starter, the 5-foot-9, 175-pound Parker compiled 116 tackles, including 10 for a loss. He shared the team lead with five sacks and also caused five fumbles and intercepted one pass.
“He was always certainly willing to do what was best for the team,” said Sorrentino, whose first season at Hylton was last fall. “He didn’t complain, he worked hard and he was a star. But I don’t even want to talk about the football side of it.
“He was just a great, great kid. We all respected the type of person he was.”
For the Hylton football family, this is the second death in a little more than nine months. Last June, 18-year-old Hylton graduate Kenny Pekanyande, who had been a reserve defensive lineman for the Bulldogs, drowned in the Atlantic Ocean off a beach in Pea Island, N.C.
Pekanyande “ended his career getting to play and contribute,” former Hylton coach Bill Brown said last June. “In the offseason he tried to get stronger to play at the defensive line, playing down against stronger kids. He was a late-starter, but he came on.”