Thompson matches up with HS teammate

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Finally, knock wood, they get to be in uniform in the stadium and work up a sweat at the same time to play on the field in this massive game.

For one reason or another — usually an injury — either Kenny Parker and Will Thompson has been hobbled on the sideline while the other one played.

Now, a Bulldog and a Gator who grew up as Eagles will at least figuratively go against each other — finally — in the football game that takes place during the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.

Now, it's time to play ball, and watch the other one.

Parker missed the 2002 season while he was recovering from back surgery, and Thompson missed the next year due to a dislocated ankle. But they don't share sob stories, Thompson said.

"We don't bring up the negative," he said. "We pretty much stay focused on the positive."

Saturday falls into that category since this will be the first time the former teammates have played against each other. In 2000, while Parker played in five games as a true freshman, Thompson redshirted.

The next year, Thompson played in 11 games for the Bulldogs, but, by the time the Florida game rolled around, Parker was out for the year due to a back injury. Throw in the lost seasons of 2002 and 2003 and that makes Saturday's game a first.

"Yeah, I'm looking forward to it," Thompson said. "We're coming up in age. There aren't going to be any more chances for us to do that."

Thompson and Parker have been friends since middle school. Thompson's clearest early memory of his friend was his size. Parker was the kid who got his growth spurt first.

"Back then, Kenny was real big in our eyes," Thompson said. "We thought he was huge."

Thompson has been a defensive player most of his career, even dating back to the days when he and Parker first met. Parker, though, was a two-way player until his senior year of high school when he moved to just defense.

"Actually, I liked playing both ways," said Parker, who got married three weeks ago. "But I'll do whatever the team needs me to do."

This year, that's meant more playing time with assorted injuries to starter Ray McDonald. Parker has started three of Florida's games, and may start Saturday, although McDonald is getting better. Parker has played in every Gator game this year and will regardless see plenty of time against the Bulldogs.

Thompson has started all seven games for the Bulldogs this year and has 11 tackles, including three for a loss.

This will be the first time they played in the game at the same time, but it may not be the last. Parker was granted two years ago a sixth year of eligibility because of his back problems, and he'll wait until the end of the season to see how his back feels before making a decision.

Thompson and Georgia are likely to apply for a medical hardship so Thompson can get a sixth year because of his own season-ending injury.

The two talk about once a week, but it's been quiet as The Game approaches.

Parker and his teammates are working through the firing Monday of head coach Ron Zook and his staff. Thompson and his teammates are working to figure out how to beat Florida for only the second time in the last 15 tries.

Parker said they did chat briefly on Sunday.

"We joked around a little bit, nothing about football," he said. "Just a nice conversation between two friends."

Reminded that the duo's alma mater was beaten last week by Warner Robins, Parker shook his head.

"I didn't believe it," Parker said. "I was heartbroken."

The one dream game that he and Thompson shared in high school? The 1999 showdown with Warner Robins, a game that also featured future collegians Chansi Stuckey (Clemson), Willie Reid (Florida State), Jason Respert (Tennessee), and Mike Richardson (Notre Dame), among others.

"I had about 10 tackles, five solos, three for losses," Parker remembers of the 16-7 win. "Will was about the same. We just shut that side down."

They're still trying to do that, but while wearing different colors and on different sidelines. But there'll be little talk before, during, and after Saturday's game.

Maybe just a nice conversations between two friends, one in a substantially better mood than the other.

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