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Fitch football gets a new coach for Christmas

December 18, 2019
Nik Zirounis , The Town Crier

The Fitch football program has found the man that is going to lead it into the new decade.

Last Tuesday, the Austintown School Board named 34-year-old T.J. Parker to the head coaching position. The approval became official at the Board of Education meeting on December 17.

Parker will be replacing Jon Elliot who was the interim coach in 2019. The Falcons finished last year with back to back wins to achieve a 5-5 record.

Article Photos

Photo by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
T.J. Parker will lead the Falcons in 2020.

Parker recently completed his third season as running backs coach at Westminster College, but that doesn't mean he is a stranger to the Fitch family. He is currently a physical education teacher at the high school and is a 2003 graduate of the school. His resume is stocked with plenty of athletic experience. Parker played basketball and baseball at Fitch, but it was on the gridiron where he made his name well known. Parker's prowess on Friday nights enabled him to earn a scholarship to Bethany College where he was a four-year starter. As a member of the Bison, he set numerous career records including receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. His 71 receptions and nine touchdowns in one season set single year records. Parker was named All-PAC twice and was an ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District recipient in both his junior and senior campaigns.

When his playing career came to an end, Parker commenced the coaching portion of his life. Eventually, he would find his way to Westminster where he had the opportunity to hone his coaching skills under the guidance of head coach Scott Benzel. Parker hopes to carry the knowledge he received from his mentor with him to Austintown.

"Coach (Benzel) has a great mind," said Parker. "He's a great leader. It was so great to be able to work with him."

Another coach that Parker paid homage to was former Westminster offensive coordinator Mike Miller. When the two were together as late as 2018, Parker picked Miller's mind about how to run an offense. It was a magnificent mind to pick too considering Miller was a receivers coach on the Arizona Cardinals team that made a Super Bowl. At Arizona, he had the opportunity to work with such stalwart receivers such as Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.

"I learned so much just being around (Coach Miller)," said Parker.

Fitch's new sideline leader noted that football has changed a lot since his playing days at Fitch subsided. While at Bethany, Parker learned a great deal about how to operate out of a spread formation. That is the same formation that the Falcons have used in recent seasons. Parker plans to keep that offense cooking while adding a few of his own nuances to it.

"(The spread) has really taken off now in the high school game," he said. "(In college) I learned a lot about moving the ball around the field. I played the slot, so I did a lot of jet motion sweeps. I watched Fitch from a far, so I saw what they were doing, and it was a lot of the same stuff."

Not only does Parker have the duty of rekindling the Falcons' great tradition, but he also has the unenviable task of carrying on the legacy of late Fitch head coach Phil Annarella. Annarella will always be remembered in the local coaching community as a master teacher and communicator. Parker hopes to be that too, but in his own way.

"Coach Annarella was a legend in the area," said Parker. "I think the best way to carry on his legend is to be myself. I think Coach Annarella would have told me that."

In the coming weeks Parker will meet with the school board as well as Athletic Director Jim Penk to discuss building his staff. That group of coaches will be directed to not only make the Falcons relevant again on the football field, but to also make them important in the community.

"We want them to be winners on and off the field," said Parker about his kids. "Winning in every aspect of life is more important than winning on Friday nights."

 
 

 

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