Neil Perry's college football playing career at San Jose State ended nearly a decade ago, nondescript in statistics but awash in bravery. His story made national headlines and led to a Presidential summons out on the campaign trail.
The former special teamer's love of football fueled his own passion at a point when most gridiron mortals would have tapped out. It continues today in the role of graduate assistant defensive coach- and now serves as a stirring reminder to today's Spartans entering Thursday's Military Bowl against Bowling Green.
"He's an inspiration to all," San Jose's interim coach and defensive coordinator Kent Baer said of Parry, a first-year defensive assistant with the Spartans. "His story, his background, what a great young man. Our kids know that. He has no ego, he never talks about it. We're certainly glad he's with us.
"It" is no ordinary situation and one Parry recites in a straightforward manner where others might embellish the tale for added flavor and folklore heft.
Then again, returning to play football three years after having your leg amputated below the knee is already the stuff of legends.
"Personally I don't look at it as something very special," Parry said about his story.
He's the only one.
"[The players] appreciate and respect what he's done in his life to get out here," said Spartans defensive line coach and former Dallas Cowboys star Jim Jeffcoat. "I think that pushes them. That motivates them. Neil went through all this just to play this game then I can through certain things to play this game."
All that Parry went through came about because of what happened on October 14, 2000, the eighth game of his sophomore season. Covering a second half kickoff against Texas-El Paso, another player landed in front of Parry causing one those all too familiar collisions though the result here was hardly ordinary. The subsequent impact led to Parry's right leg breaking, the bone coming through the skin. The open wound became infected. Nine days later, doctors were forced to amputate 18 centimeters below the knee.
"I was told my career was over," Parry recounted. "Any time you hear that, you're done doing something especially when you do it your whole life up to that point it really hit me hard."
No doubt. There is also no doubt that such a trauma would indeed end the act of playing collegiate level football for seemingly anyone enduring such hell. Simply finding traction in day-to-day life would be challenging enough.
At this point in the story, you can probably guess that Parry had more on his mind.
"I started to realize if I could run, I could get back with the team, work out and try and get back on the field in special teams again," Parry said. "It took me three years to get back, 42 surgeries."
Let that ghastly number sink in then factor in several of those surgeries came about because of Parry "pushing too hard" during his comeback quest.
"I want to be the one that determines what I can and can do," stated Parry, expressing the rationale behind his never give up journey.
Fitted with a prosthetic, he pushed hard enough to return on special teams against Nevada four games into the 2003 season. Named team captain for the second time in his college career, Parry played eight regular season games that season. An appearance in the East-West Shrine College All-Star game followed.
Parry: "In the Shrine game I was in on kickoff and I made a tackle. That kind of brought everything full circle. That was the comeback I had pictured for three years. I felt like if I could get back off on kickoff and make a tackle then I'm back. I was able to do it in the last game of my career. That was quite a way to go out."
Indeed, though Parry's career in football continues. After four seasons coaching in the High School ranks, Parry spent 2011 at UC-Davis before returning to San Jose just in time for his Alma Mater's football resurgence.
Ranked for the first time since 1975, No. 24 Spartans (10-2) have won six straight games behind their pass-happy offense. However, San Jose will face Bowling Green (8-4) without head coach Mike MacIntyre, who left for Colorado since the regular season concluded. Former San Diego head coach Ron Caragher will take over that job after the bowl game.
The San Jose head job is one Parry covets down the line, after he's paid his coaching dues. He's clearly kicked too much into the tollbooth of life already. Not that the husband and father of two boys, a man that still receives letters from appreciative handicapped football-playing children and has worked with the Wounded Warriors project is complaining.
At the time of Parry's comeback, his story extended beyond the sports pages and all the way to the White House. In 2003 while campaigning in Northern California, President George W. Bush requested a meeting. As it turned out this was not Parry's first encounter with a Commander in Chief. Hours after being discharged from the hospital for the first time in 2000, Parry was back on the San Jose State campus when Marine One carrying then President Bill Clinton landed.
"The President talked to all of us for about 20 minutes," Parry said. "In that moment, it definitely gave me a push, motivation to get going...Not too many people get to meet two Presidents. I was very fortunate."
Fortunate is not how many would view Neil Parry's story. Inspirational comes to mind.