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Emotional senior night awaits Will Parks and family in final game at Arizona Stadium

Arizona+safety+Will+Parks+%2811%29+takes+down+USC+tailback+Ronald+Jones+II+%2825%29+at+Los+Angeles+Memorial+Coliseum+on+Nov.+7.+Parks+will+play+his+final+game+in+Arizona+Stadium+on+Saturday.
Rebecca Noble

Arizona safety Will Parks (11) takes down USC tailback Ronald Jones II (25) at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Nov. 7. Parks will play his final game in Arizona Stadium on Saturday.

Senior Day in Arizona Stadium is emotional and unforgettable regardless of what a players’ role is on the team. Imagine fastening the chinstrap and putting on the pads for the last time in front of tens of thousands of your screaming home fans.

Being honored before the game and walking out of the tunnel with family is a bittersweet milestone for any player. Saturday’s final home matchup of the season against No. 10 Utah will have an electric atmosphere similar to the UCLA game earlier this season, but this time, it’s with a chance to become bowl-eligible.

For Arizona senior safety Will Parks, Senior Day has always been marked on the calendar. Saturday’s game will also be the first time that both Parks’ parents will be together in the stands cheering for him.

Monday’s press conference should’ve been supplied with tissues, because just talking about the occasion made Parks choke up.

“First of all, to go out there and get Utah, a top 10 team, on senior night, with my mom and dad coming to town [means] a whole lot to me,” Parks said. “I am going to go out there and do what I have to do, knowing that [my parents] are up there at the same time.”

Parks was just like any other recruit from Philadelphia: He was either going to the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State or Temple University, in order to play in front of his family every weekend.

Parks said he was originally committed to Pittsburgh and made the transition to the UA because of one person. Some would jump to conclusion and assume head coach Rich Rodriguez was the deciding factor, but someone else in the Arizona football program turned out to be it for Parks. On-campus recruiting coordinator Matt Dudek will always have a special place in his heart.

“I’ve known Dudek for a long time and I feel like he’s had my back since day one, since he was recruiting me at Pitt and then coming here,” Parks said. “Every time I talk to my dad, he asks, ‘How’s my man Dudek doing?’ And I tell Dudek who always says, ‘Man, tell Big Willy I said, “Hello. Come out here soon, man.”’ It’s the same thing every time. I feel like he is family.”

The defense’s focus turned to Parks this season after he had a productive year in 2014 and Scooby Wright III went down early this year. Despite Arizona’s defense struggling to stay healthy and to keep other teams from scoring, Parks said he wouldn’t trade the experience of being a Wildcat for anything.

Rodriguez has his heated moments on the sideline whenever the defense folds, but only out of respect. The head coach has always been a personal mentor to these players, according to Parks.

“When you’re getting coached at and he’s getting mad, you kind of get scared,” Parks said. “But there are a lot of things he’s done for us that I don’t think anyone else would have. What he did for us is bigger than just a football moment. He helped us achieve our goals by teaching us to play hard, whether or not you win or lose.”

Parks has played in a bowl game every season he’s been with the program. There might not be another player who wants to come out on top against Utah more than “Philly Willy” does.

The safety will put on the Arizona red and blue for the 51st time Saturday night. Parks has racked up 180 total tackles, 18 tackles for loss and four interceptions in his four seasons with the Wildcats.

Regardless of what the scoreboard shows when the final whistle blows, Parks will end his Arizona career with no regrets.

“[This team has] had my back, just like I have had theirs, for the past four years,” Parks said. “I wouldn’t change any of these people for anything. It is going to be emotional. With all the questions I’ve been getting, I’ve been realizing it more and more.”


Follow Justin Spears on Twitter.


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