Up Close: Fred Sparkman

<I>Inside Carolina</i> recruiting writer Andy Britt is touring the countryside to visit each UNC football commitment. Look for his unique, on-location two-part profiles all year long. Today, he reports from Columbia, Tenn. on linebacker Fred Sparkman.

COLUMBIA, Tenn. – North Carolina football commitment Fred Sparkman's somewhat hardened exterior appearance may be a product of an equally tough background.

But growing up without his mother, has left him with one omnipresent aim that trumps all others.

"My goal in life is to set my mother up so that she can be with me in her later years," Sparkman said. "I want to get her a house where she can live with me and I can take care of my brothers and sisters."

Fortunately, there were other family members that Sparkman could count on growing up.

It's easy to tell where he obtained the discipline needed to overcome his personal obstacles in winning Tennessee's coveted Mr. Football Award while maintaining a 3.8 grade point average.

Sammy Sparkman, a former titleholder, is still competitive as a middleweight boxer with a 14-8-1 professional record.

"My father took me when I was two, and it's been he and I ever since," he said.

Sparkman's grandmother, who he calls ‘Momma,' remains the strongest influence in her grandson's life. Carolina fans can thank Mary Mitchell for supporting Sparkman's decision to turn down offers from schools like Michigan, Alabama, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Louisville, Arkansas, Notre Dame, Stanford, etc.; and attend UNC.

"She just told me to go where I felt the most comfortable," Sparkman said. "She was like, ‘Carolina is a good academic school where I could get my degree and be set for life, too.'

"Then she said after I do that, don't forget her."

With the prep accolades necessary to make his purpose reality, Sparkman is eager to take the next step toward to reuniting his family.

A four-year starter at running back and linebacker at Central, here are Sparkman's numbers taken directly from the desk of Central's seventh-year head coach Vance Belew on Tuesday:

Sparkman's Tenn. Mr. Football application.

2002 – 122 tackles, six sacks, four forced fumbles, three fumbles recovered, two blocked PATs, three blocked punts, four pass breakups, 21 tackles for loss, 1,221 yards rushing at 7.8 yards per carry, three kickoffs returned for touchdown, 18 total touchdowns;

Career – 438 tackles, 22 sacks, 11 forced fumbles, eight fumbles recovered, four blocked PATs, six blocked punts, 14 pass breakups, 76 tackles for loss, 2,881 yards rushing at 6.1 yards per carry, five kickoffs returned for touchdown, 38 total touchdowns, three interceptions, 546 yards receiving;

Honors – 3.8 GPA, DECA, Member of Peace in Action.

As imposing and as seemingly endless as Sparkman's high school numbers are, he may need to bulk up his 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame before he is ready to fill the Tar Heels' shoes at inside linebacker.

"He needs to improve on his overall strength, and I think that is going to happen when he gets into a year-round weight program," Belew said. "He's a kid that I think is going to probably gain 15-20 pounds of muscle in his first year."

Sparkman is currently averaging 14 points per game as a starting power forward on the Lions' 15-1 basketball team.

After straining his ACL last season on the hardwood, Belew suggested that Sparkman run track in the spring of 2002, if simply for rehabilitation. Belew meant for him to compete solely in the running events.

But in a pinch during the season, Sparkman's track coach called on him as a fill-in for the high jump – an event he had never competed in. Sparkman not only cleared 6'0" on his initial attempt, he went on to lead Central and place in the state's Region 5 AAAA post-season regionals.

Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow…

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