Parker welcomed back

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:42 AM ET

Byron Parker's career has taken more twists than Chubby Checker on the dance floor.

The Madisonville, Ky. native began his collegiate career at Tulane University, not as a football star but as highly-touted basketball player. Parker actually won the NCAA Slam Dunk contest, with a dunk he called The X-Factor, in 2003.

But his dream of playing in the NBA sizzled after a couple of seasons with Tulane, where he was used primarily as a defensive specialist. That same year, he was invited as a walk on with the Green Wave football team and, the next season, was signed as a free agent with the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars.

Released by the Jags just prior to the season, Parker ended up with the Argonauts, playing in six regular season games during the 2005 season.

This year, Parker again made his way to an NFL training camp, signing a one-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys. Released on July 31, he was again invited back to Toronto, where he arrived on Aug. 6, disillusioned and frustrated that his dream of playing in the NFL had been quashed yet again.

But it didn't talk long for Parker to feel at home in Toronto. His teammates, and head coach Michael (Pinball) Clemons, were there to greet him with open arms -- literally.

"I said 'welcome home' the first time I saw him (after he was cut) and hugged him," Clemons said yesterday, following practice at the University of Toronto's Erindale campus. "He was going through a tough time, but we were glad to see him."

After his performance against Montreal on Saturday, in only his second game back, the Argos are thrilled to have him in the lineup. Parker had two interceptions (Khalil Carter also had two), including one which he ran back 79 yards for a touchdown, in a 31-6 victory over the Alouettes at the Rogers Centre. That victory, their second straight, improved the Argos to 4-5 and puts them in pretty good stead for a playoff run.

Even though Parker is just 25, the personable defensive back believes that he will continue to improve dramatically as a football player, given that the 2005 season was really the first time that he played the game full-time.

"I'm like a sponge," Parker said yesterday. "I'm so raw. I just want to come here and get better and better."

"Sometimes in sport, we consider that untainted," Clemons said, referring to Parker's relative inexperience. "He doesn't have a lot to correct."

The Argos travel to Winnipeg to take on the 5-4 Blue Bombers Friday, a team one spot ahead of Toronto in the CFL East.

Starting quarterback Damon Allen, who is only 441 yards away from tying Warren Moon's record as pro football's all-time leading passer (70,533), felt fine yesterday at practice after having his bell rung on Saturday.


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