Yes, Parker Henry says with a sheepish laugh, there is a story behind that one-tooth-missing photograph you see in Washington State’s football game program.
It’s also the first thing you notice when navigating Henry’s bio page on WSU’s official website. The fifth-year senior linebacker-turned-nickelback is grinning wide, showing a mouth full of teeth — except for the one he accidentally removed during a weightlifting mishap last summer.
Henry said he was executing a power clean when he slipped and yanked the bar directly into his chompers. Once his mouth finally stopped bleeding, he could feel that his front tooth had turned sideways, and it was later determined that he had knocked it too far out of place to save.
“Not my proudest moment,” he said.
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A replacement wasn’t ready by the time he had to report to Pullman for fall camp (and for team pictures). So he embraced the gap, smiling wide in his photo with hopes of amusing his parents.
“I didn’t really have to do it,” Henry said on Thursday at Loews Hollywood Hotel, where he served as one of two WSU player representatives at Pac-12 media days. “But I kind of wanted to surprise my parents, give them a nice surprise on the first day, open up the game-day program and see their kid with no tooth. So it was kind of funny.”
These are the kinds of moments for which he worked so hard as a walk-on his first three seasons. And the kinds of moments he didn’t think would be possible toward the end of the 2014 season, when his financial situation nearly dictated that he leave WSU in pursuit of a school that could give him a scholarship.
Henry was a star at Skyview High School in Vancouver, Washington, where he rushed for 2,133 yards and 35 touchdowns as a senior in 2011. And while he didn’t have any Division-I scholarship offers, he chose to pursue his dream of playing major-college football as a walk-on under first-year coach Mike Leach at WSU.
He redshirted his first season, appeared in seven games on special teams in 2013, then played in 11 games on special teams in 2014. His work ethic and physical stature — 5-foot-11, 203 pounds — earned him the nickname “the bulldog” from coaches and teammates. He was working his way up. But life as a walk-on is expensive, and he knew it wasn’t going to be feasible for much longer.
Then, in December of that year, while he was home on Christmas break after a disappointing 3-9 season, special-teams coach Eric Mele called him with the news that changed everything.
Henry had earned a scholarship. He could stay at WSU.
“I wasn’t going to be able to go to school anymore. At least not at WSU,” Henry said. “I was going to transfer down to a D-2 school because of money. I wasn’t going to be able to afford to go to school. Being on scholarship has just been an absolute blessing in every way possible.”
See, Henry’s mother, Vonna, has battled multiple sclerosis since 2003. He says his mom “literally means everything to me,” and describes her as “the hardest-working, most non-complaining person I’ve ever met in my life.”
Think early-morning weight lifting is tough? No way, Henry tells himself. Mom wakes up at 4:15 a.m. every day to commute to her job in downtown Portland, where she has worked for more than 20 years in the Metropolitan Public Defender Services office. And she still works out every day, Henry said, still doing everything she can to combat the symptoms of M.S.
“Any time anything gets hard, I just think about my mom,” Henry said, “and it’s like, ‘you have nothing to complain about, man. You’ve got nothing to complain about.’
“She doesn’t let it handicap her in any way.”
The phone call from Mele, then, meant more than you know.
“It was probably one of the proudest moments of my life,” Henry said. “I called my parents and we pretty much just cried on the phone for like 10 minutes.”
Since then, he has thrived. Henry finished fourth on the team in tackles last season with 71, starting seven games and appearing in all 13, finding a niche at nickelback in new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s system.
“He’s an overachiever in almost everything,” Leach said.
Henry will graduate in December with a degree in sport management and economics with a minor in business administration, and wants to work in sports when he’s done playing. He has also become close friends with star WSU receiver Gabe Marks, with whom he traveled to Hollywood for this week’s festivities.
“He got a chance to play, and he balled out, and he’s been riding the wave ever since,” said Marks, who was a Biletnikoff Award finalist last season. “He got put on scholarship. His arms are getting bigger. His hair is perfect. Look at those khakis, dude. I love those khakis.
“He’s a very loyal friend, and he’s very cultured on the world and he knows a lot about a lot of things.”
Henry also, eventually, got his tooth replaced. Vonna and Henry’s father, Bill, didn’t find that photo as funny as Henry did – at first, anyway.
“But they kind of embraced it as the season went on,” he said.
Considering the work he put in to get here, can you blame him for wanting to smile?
UW 2nd, WSU 4th IN POLL
The Washington Huskies were picked by media to finish second in the six-team Pac-12 North this season, with Washington State picked to finish fourth — the highest either team has finished in the preseason poll since the conference expanded in 2011.
Media covering the Pac-12 tabbed Stanford as the Pac-12 North champion and Pac-12 championship game winner, and picked UCLA to win the Pac-12 South. UW also received eight votes to finish first in the North and four votes (out of 33 ballots) to win the Pac-12 title game.
WSU was picked fourth behind Oregon and ahead of California and Oregon State.