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Robby Parris: Parris catches everything thrown his way

Sam Werner | Friday, November 20, 2009

Not many players on the Irish roster can say that they’ve also been a YouTube superstar.

Robby Parris can.

This past spring, Parris, along with junior running back Armando Allen, senior running back James Aldridge and then-senior defensive lineman Pat Kuntz, recorded a music video titled “Bend but Don’t Break.” The video garnered some notable, if only fleeting, Internet fame.

“We had a couple thousand views within like five hours,” Parris said. “But then we had to take it down.”

Even though his career as an Internet celebrity may have been short-lived, Parris’ time on the gridiron has not. Coming out of St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Parris played in six games his freshman year, catching one pass for seven yards in Notre Dame’s loss to Michigan.

Despite the limited playing time in his first season, Parris knew that a college football career was more about the long haul.

“In high school, you’re the man and then you come in and want to be the man in college,” Parris said. “When things don’t go your way, it’s definitely a little wrinkle in your plans, but just sticking it out and staying confident for four years and you’ll get your chance.”

Parris got that chance in 2007, his sophomore season. With the graduation of Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight. Parris was one of only three receivers on the Irish roster that had registered a catch the previous season.

Even though the Irish struggled to a 3-9 record in 2007, Parris flourished, finishing third on the team with 29 catches and second with 361 receiving yards.

The sophomore saw the first meaningful action of his Irish career in the season opener against Georgia Tech, and caught three passes for 30 yards. Two weeks later, Parris recorded his first career start at Michigan Stadium against the Wolverines. Parris also scored the first touchdown of his Notre Dame career that season against Boston College.

His junior season, Parris was forced to compete with five-star freshman Michael Floyd for playing time. While Parris was still an effective receiver for the Irish, he also learned to take on a mentor role to Floyd and then-sophomore wide receiver Golden Tate.

“You definitely get into more of a teaching role, because when these guys come in you know there’s something special about them,” Parris said. “I could tell when they came in that these guys were going to play. So just being a little bit older, being on the field, seeing a little bit more than they’ve seen, you just kind of turn into more of a teacher role for them.”

Wide receivers coach Rob Ianello said Parris has been invaluable in the film room helping the younger receivers develop.

“Robby asks good questions,” Ianello said. “And a lot of times he might ask questions for other guys as opposed to himself. He asks good questions when looking at the film, and he’s a very heady player.”

Parris caught nine passes for 50 yards in 2008, and, like the rest of the Irish squad, enjoyed a trip to Hawaii at the end of the season for the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. He added that the team’s struggles the season before made the trip to paradise — and Notre Dame’s 49-21 victory over Hawaii — just a little bit sweeter.

“It does taste a little bit better. We didn’t even get to go to a bowl game the year before that, and then the next year we’re in Hawaii living it up. We had fun down in Hawaii and then had a big game, kind of laid it on them really good.”

Parris said the win over the Warriors, as well as Notre Dame’s dominating 35-0 shutout of Nevada to open 2009, helped the Irish get the ball rolling in a positive direction.

“When we do put it all together and have big wins like that, it does get your confidence going and get your morale up a little bit,” he said.

Heading into the 2009 season, Parris said he knew his role on the team as a compliment to the All-American skills of Floyd and Tate.

“I’m not going to go out there and have 200-yard receiving games like these guys [Floyd and Tate],” Parris said. “These guys are miraculous at how they could do that. I’m just going to go out there and make sure I do everything mentally right.”

Parris said he considered his hands to be his biggest attribute as a receiver, and so far those hands have caught 22 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown this season.

“When a ball’s thrown to me, I have confidence in myself that I’ll catch it if it’s anywhere near me,” Parris said. “I take a lot of pride in that because I’m obviously not the fastest guy, but if the ball’s thrown to me, I can catch it, and that’s a good thing.”

Many of those catches came when Floyd suffered a broken collarbone in the third game of the season against Michigan State. In the five games Floyd missed, Parris caught 13 passes for 156 yards, even though Parris himself missed the majority of two games due to injury.

“When [Floyd] went down, we just knew it was time to pick it up,” Parris said. “I mean, Michael’s probably one of the top five receivers in the country, so when he got hurt, it left a lot of opportunities for me and the other receivers to step up.”

Parris had his biggest game of the season, and his Irish career, against USC. Despite catching nine passes for 92 yards, Parris was quick to downplay his performance.

“It was cool, I guess,” he said. “I really didn’t even think of it like a ‘breakout game’ because I just did what I had to do. They threw it to me and I caught it. I didn’t do anything spectacular.”

The biggest catch of the nine was undoubtedly a 13-yard grab Parris made on a fourth-and-10 pass from quarterback Jimmy Clausen on Notre Dame’s final drive. The play gave the Irish a first down and drove them down to USC’s 16-yard line.

“I knew it was fourth down, so all I was trying to think about was holding on to the ball,” Parris said.

After he caught the ball, Parris’ leg got twisted in the turf, and he was drilled by Trojans safety Taylor Mays.

“At the time, I didn’t even know that he came in from behind and hit me in the head because my leg got so twisted up. I thought I had torn my ACL because my leg got so twisted. I was in excruciating pain in my leg.”

Despite the pain, Parris said his main goal was just to not let go of the ball.

“I mean, my leg literally just bent backwards and then I got drilled in the back of head,” he said. “But it was fourth down, do or die, so I just had to hold on to it.”

Ianello, though, wasn’t surprised by Parris’ tenacity.

“I think Robby has been a guy with us for four years that’s been a real steady guy, a guy we can count on,” Ianello said. “He’s really shown some great toughness, mentally and physically here.”

As his collegiate football career comes to a close, Parris said he’ll remember the off-field moments more than anything that happened on the gridiron.

“The best thing about playing is just hanging out with these guys in the locker room, just screwing around,” Parris said. “That’s better than anything that’s happened on the field.”

Parris said he wants to give professional football a try, but that he has a backup plan ready.

“Maybe this football thing will work out, maybe it won’t,” Parris said. “I’m not going to put all my eggs in that basket, though.”

Parris has continued his music endeavors, recording songs with teammates as well as local musician and Notre Dame senior Pat McKillen. He said former Notre Dame receiver David Grimes also helped out with his music.

“Grimes is the man,” Parris said. “He’s always around. He’s like wisdom. Everything that comes out of his mouth, you want to listen to it because he’s just so helpful in anything you’ve got.”

One thing is for sure, though. Parris’ career as an Internet personality has come to a close.

“We always screw around with it,” Parris joked. “But no more YouTube videos for us.”