Freshman season didn't quite go as planned for Freddie Parish. The three-time national Tae Kwan Do champion had planned on getting a lot of playing time his freshman season.
"It didn't go as I had hoped," Parish said of his freshman season. "I played, but I didn't play like I should've been able to play—go out there and bang. I didn't do the things I needed to do. I didn't do the little things and I didn't understand the defense like I needed to."
Besides not playing much, Parish had a hard time adjusting to life at Notre Dame.
"I can't lie, it hasn't been easy," said Parish of his surroundings. "It's just a lot different from where I'm from."
Complicating matters for Parish was an injury in spring ball—the time he had planned to make his move into the starting strong safety position.
Parish decided after a disappointing spring that he had to change his attitude if he wanted to reach his goal of playing in the NFL.
"I had a nagging injury, I had a hip pointer," Parish said of his spring injury. "That was messing me up--that was discouraging. My reps (were) limited--that was discouraging. I just knew when I came to workouts I had to have a different attitude.
"I was all over the place and just trying to make plays," said Parish when asked what went wrong in spring. "I figured I would just try to make plays, try to make something happen and you can't do that. You've got to do your assignment. If you're over doing someone else's assignment, that's leaving some place on the field open."
Besides the injury, Parish also had more competition at strong safety in the spring. Former wide receiver Chinedum Ndukwe was moved to strong safety and made an immediate impact with his physical play.
"I kind of felt that he was ahead of me a little bit and that he was showing the coaches them extra things that I wasn't showing them," Parish said of Ndukwe. "That definitely gave me that push over the summer time to work when I was at home."
With his future in doubt, Parish then had a real eye-opening experience. He received a call from home that two of his best friends had been caught in a crossfire at a local bowling alley.
Two of his very best friends narrowly escaped death as both were shot.
"You start to think that you would've been there with your friends and you know for a fact that could've been you," Parish said. "You know for a fact that you would've been there. That definitely played a part in it."
"Having that happen, it made me look at things differently. It made me think that I'm here for a reason. I'd just be wasting my talent if I didn't take this opportunity and make something happen with it.
"They're fine now and they weren't hurt bad, but they could've been. And I would've been right there with them had I been at home. That made me think that I'm here for a reason and that I came here for a reason."
Parish said he reported to summer workouts with a brand new attitude, and his new attitude certainly shows."I cut my hair," Parish said. "The coaches will perceive you in certain way. I'm just trying to show the coaches I'm coming here to be part of Notre Dame. Just trying to show them that I'm ready to conform and be a part of this team. Start off with a new, clean slate. It's just hair, forget it. They talk about it all the time. I'm just trying to show them that I mean business."
The new attitude has paid dividends for Parish. He's now running with the first team and he couldn't be happier with life right now.
"So far it's been alright," said Parish of fall camp. "(I'm) just trying to get the little things down. I know the defense a lot better that I ever did so that's a definite plus.
"Yeah, for the whole thing so far I've been first-team," Parish said when asked where he's been on the depth chart this fall. "It's kind of giving you something that you can see in front of you and just keep on working. Get them little things down, that's a big thing right there, the little things."
Parish still has plenty of competition every day for his starting position and the Redondo Beach, Calif. native says he welcomes it.
"He knows every day I'm going to try to come out there and bang and he's going to do the same thing," Parish said of Ndukwe. "We push each other so it's real good having someone right there--Lionel as well. Lionel's trying to work hard and do his thing. You know darn well if you lay off a practice, be scared, you better step it up and do your thing."
With his starting position in sight, we asked Parish what the coaching staff have told him about his play so far this fall and where he needs to improve.
"Coach Baer and coach Wilks aren't going to be too complimentary about anything, ever," Parish said while laughing. "They always pull me aside and tell me that I need to get the little things down and be a little more disciplined. They say once I do that, the sky is the limit and I'll be a hell of a football player. I'm just trying to do that and get the little things down."
The best thing about the change in attitude for Parish has been a sense of belonging—something he says he didn't feel last season.
"Now I feel I have more of a place on the team rather than just on the team," Parish said. "I feel I have a place and it's just my job to make that role bigger and bigger. That just makes happy to know I fit in today."
Will a happy Parish become a productive Parish? The former high school running back says he's had a few of those famous collisions he's been known for on the football field.
"I had a couple today," Parish said when asked if he's had some big hits recently. "I try to have a couple every day. If not, just ding somebody good.
"The only person who's got me so far since I've been here has been Travis (Thomas)," Parish said when asked if anyone has dinged him on the field. "That was last year. We were just going head up every day--bang, bang, bang. He'd get me, I'd get him. Ashley (McConnell) got me coming down the sideline last spring, but those are the only two. That's only going to be a rare occasion," Parish said while laughing.
With a brand new attitude and a big smile, a fire has been lit under Parish and we expect to see a lot of him on the field in 2004. The 6-0, 200-pound sophomore has that extra bounce in his step that the truly great players have. Seeing Parish singing on the practice field is a very good sign for the Irish, even if he's not the best singer.