Reuben Clarke, Ryan Parris and Football Thanks

Lyn Scarbrough

November 29, 2018 at 7:26 am.

Ryan Parris and his family with Nick Saban being recognized on Senior Day on the field before the Auburn game.

Ryan Parris and his family with Nick Saban being recognized on Senior Day on the field before the Auburn game.

It’s unlikely that many people reading this know much about Troy, New York, located a few miles northeast of the state capital, Albany. Founded in 1786, the city had a population of 50,129 in the 2010 census.

Settled on the east bank of the Hudson River, Troy is home to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the nation’s oldest private engineering and technical university, founded in 1824. Known as RPI, the school’s most notable graduates include Allen B. DuMont, creator of the first commercial television, and Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., who designed and built the first Ferris Wheel.

RPI athletic teams, called the Red Hawks, play in the NCAA Division III Liberty League with members including Hobart College, Ithaca College, the University of Rochester and others. Red Hawk alums include Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia and Miami Dolphins placekicker Andrew Franks.

Reuben Clarke is a member of the RPI football team.

It’s likely that everybody reading this knows about Tuscaloosa, Alabama, located a little over 50 miles southwest of Birmingham. Founded in 1819, the city has a population around 100,000.

Settled on the banks of the Black Warrior River, Tuscaloosa is home to the University of Alabama, a public research institution established in 1820.

University of Alabama athletic teams, called the Crimson Tide, play in the Southeastern Conference with members including Auburn University, Louisiana State University, the University of Tennessee and others.

Ryan Parris is a member of the Alabama football team.

This past week, the week of Thanksgiving, the weekend of rivalries and the start of football playoffs, brought those two football teams into the headlines. It also brought those two players into the headlines … Reuben Clarke and Ryan Parris.

Clarke, a 6-2, 230-pound offensive lineman, was a starter as a high school senior, where he was also captain of the wrestling team. He won the West Haven (Conn.) Rotary Club Scholar Athlete Award in 2017 and entered RPI as a biomedical engineering major. As a D-III institution, there are no athletic scholarships.

On Thanksgiving Eve night, Amtrak Train 68, called the Adirondack, traveling from Montreal to Penn Station in New York City pulled out of Albany. Clarke, one of 287 passengers on the train, was heading home to see his family in West Haven.

Shortly after the train left the station, two cars detached from the rest of the train. There were no Amtrak personnel on the cars, which started picking up speed moving away from the rest of the train.

Clarke, an 18-year old freshman, quickly realized there was an emergency.

“I heard a loud gush of wind from the back. I felt a strong breeze of cold air come, then I started to smell smoke, and when I turned around the back of the car had just detached,” he told Brooke Selby of WNYT-TV. “Everyone was shocked; it was some level of commotion and everyone trying to figure out what was going on.”

Clarke quickly took action, moving to the front of the car and pulling the emergency brake, causing the cars to come to a stop.

“I just calmed myself down, and I was like, we have to stop the train and make sure everyone is fine,” he said. “I’m glad I made the right decision. I don’t think it will stop me from taking trains; I’ve just got to be more vigilant around me.”

Passengers were quick to credit Clarke.

“He (Clarke) saved our lives tonight,” passenger Helen Mark Crane told CNN. “Our car broke off from the rest of the train and was picking up speed. Thankful he was on the train.”

The RPI head coach, Ralph Isernia, wasn’t surprised, calling Clarke “a tremendous character kid.”

Ryan Parris, a 6-0, 231-pound long snapper, is another “tremendous character kid” who chose to play football in Tuscaloosa, also without a scholarship.

He was a three-year starter at center for James Clemens High School in Huntsville, Ala., and realized that he could have a special knack for long-snapping. He worked to improve those skills, five years attending camps run by Chris Rubio, one of the nation’s premier long snapping gurus. A lifelong Alabama fan, he accepted an offer from the Crimson Tide as a preferred walk-on after his high school senior season. He followed the footsteps of his father, Butch, who was also an Alabama walk-on long-snapper under head coach Ray Perkins.

But, during the LSU weekend of his freshman year, Parris realized that he had a problem. There was an irritation in his left eye. An amoeba, probably brought about when he incorrectly washed his contact lens, had infected that eye and had started to grow.

“He was diagnosed with Acanthamoeba Keratitis,” said his grandfather, Bruce Parris. “It meant that he had an amoeba inside the eye that was eating his cornea. We read about people with this condition who were basically bed-ridden from the pain and here he was going through Division I football practice every day.”

By time for his first A-Day Spring Game, Ryan was legally blind in that eye. Still, he persisted, consulting with physicians, using eye drops, having other medical interventions designed to fight the affliction. After about a year of treatment, the amoeba was killed. Unfortunately, the eyesight was not restored.

Ryan still also persisted on the field. Despite not seeing game action during the past three seasons, he stayed on the team, there for every practice, every game.

“His goal was to win the job as long snapper,” said Bruce Parris. “But if he couldn’t do that, he wanted to push the other guys to be the best they could be to make the team better and win the national championship.

“As proud as I am of his hard work for football, I’m even more proud of his involvement with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and that he has been to Costa Rica each year on mission trips.”

Both teams … Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of Alabama … played this past Saturday.

RPI, playing in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs, was a significant underdog at undefeated No. 3 Brockport. But, it erased a 13-7 halftime deficit and won by a touchdown, moving to the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time in 15 years.

Not sure if Clarke, who played in five of the team’s 10 regular season games, saw action against Brockport. But, he still has the rest of this postseason and three more seasons with RPI.

On Saturday at noon, the Engineers, now 10-1, play the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays in Baltimore, Md., the winner advancing to the NCAA semi-finals.

Alabama, playing against arch-rival Auburn, was a significant favorite at home. It broke away from a close 17-14 halftime score, won by 31 points and moved on to the SEC Championship Game for the fifth time in seven years.

Parris did not see action against the Tigers, but before the game he was on the field, joining fellow classmates for the annual Senior Day recognition. He still has the rest of this postseason, then more medical treatment, maybe a new type contact lens, maybe a cornea transplant, hoping to improve his vision.

On Saturday afternoon, the Crimson Tide, now 12-0, plays the Georgia Bulldogs in Atlanta, Ga., the winner advancing to the College Football Playoff. Ryan Parris will graduate 14 days later with a degree in Criminal Justice.

Two football programs, competing on different ends of the college football spectrum, both hoping to play for the national championship.

Two football players, neither playing in the spotlight, both doing the right thing for the right reasons, examples of leadership and dedication, character and courage.

Too often sports headlines are about rules violations and suspensions, violence and arrests, fights and failures.

Especially at this time of the year, we should be thankful for the good things, for doing things the right way, for setting a positive example.

Thankful for young men like Reuben Clarke and Ryan Parris.