By Chad Darrah
UNCW Athletic Communications Intern

WILMINGTON, North Carolina -
“You have 180 minutes of soccer left,” UNCW head soccer coach Aidan Heaney told Michael Parrish with just two games left in his collegiate career. Parrish, a senior centerback for the Seahawks, was relieved to hear it after suffering an injury that has ended many careers.

“It was hard,” Parrish recalled in a soft-spoken, yet serious voice. “I knew this was my last year to play soccer and now I had this great injury to overcome.

“I was skiing in Breckenridge, Colo., and went down a hill before I learned how to stop,” explained Parrish, a native of Houston, Texas. “So I fell intentionally to stop myself from flying off the mountain. My knee was bothering me at first for a couple days after the incident, but not enough to go get it checked it out. I got an MRI when I went back to Houston, and my mom called and told me the results while I was visiting my girlfriend in New York. My ACL was torn and I had to go in for surgery.”

The injury occurred in December of 2012 and Parrish had surgery in January. He had to dedicate 20 hours of movement and strength training a week as part of an eight-month recovery process to get back on the field. He now plays with a brace, which keeps his knee from locking. If his knee locks and takes a hit, his ACL could possibly tear again.

“He was diligent in his physical therapy,” Heaney said. “He put in a tremendous amount of work to be able to get back into the game. There are some guys who would have just stepped away, but Michael knew he wasn’t through with soccer yet. The brace probably bothers him more than it bothers us.”

Parrish started his competitive soccer career back home for a club team, the Houston Texans, where he earned numerous accolades for his performances, including two-time Disney Soccer Showcase Champion, soccerloco Surf Cup semifinalist, and 14th-ranked player in the Texas region after leading his squad to the Dallas Cup Championships. He moved on to become team captain at Cypress Creek High School, where he earned First-Team All-District and All-Region honors.

“I heard about Michael from a friend,” Heaney added, “and went to watch him play three games. His family used to come to the games back then. I was really impressed by his toughness and technique. I could see he was a physically tough player, but he also had great skills on the ball. I knew this was a player I wanted on my team.”

Parrish had already been thinking about playing in college, and his meeting with Heaney sold him on the Seahawks. “It was hard to leave my family, but we all knew that it was time for me to grow up, and Coach Heaney gave me a great opportunity to do that,” said Parrish.

Michael has played all four years at UNCW, but, unfortunately, his family has not been able to enjoy his success on the pitch.

David Parrish, Michael’s father, sustained an injury from a tragic fall four years ago. The injury rendered him paralyzed from the waist down, making it difficult to travel to North Carolina to watch his son.

“It’s been hard,” said Michael as he looked to the ground on a windy, autumn day. “They just couldn’t make that 21-hour drive from Texas. Flying was never an option, either, because my dad has to sleep in a special bed, so it’s too much for my family to be able to put together.”

Parrish looked up, shielding his eyes from the sun, “But they have supported me as much as they could from back home.”

Michael was willing to drop his promising soccer career to return to Houston. “I told them I was willing to move back home to be able to help out with Dad, to be able to support them as much as I could. They told me that I had to finish school, and that if I did what was best for me it would help out more than me coming back. So I decided to keep moving forward.

“I really wish they could have seen me play more often, but we all know the situation and there’s nothing that could really be done about it. I talk to my dad all the time, and it still helps us both to hear from each other all the time.”

Even without the in-person support of his family, Michael has excelled, both athletically and academically. He has played in 66 games and made 57 starts for the Seahawks.

“My favorite game was during my freshman year against Drexel because it was the only game that I ever scored a goal and it was the game-winner. I don’t get as many opportunities to score,” Michael laughed, “but I’ve had a few other chances.”

Parrish had to play centerback for the first time against Duke early last month, and he played the position so well that Heaney made it permanent.

“He was coming back from the injury and he had never played the position before, but he performed so well that we kept him there. He helped record two key victories on the road against Duke and UNC Chapel Hill.

“It’s just another testament to his strength and technique,” Heaney added, referring to the characteristics he found in Michael at the beginning. “If I had to sum up Michael Parrish in one word, it would easily be ‘reliable.’ I can’t imagine all he has had to endure to be out there, but he hasn’t let it show in his performance one bit.”

Parrish’s roommates are two of his teammates, Jack Ward and Spencer Tayloe. “We ride to school together, hang out together, I beat them at FIFA 14’ all the time,” he said. “The team unity is my favorite part of playing. We all hang out, help each other on and off the field. We’re really interested in each other’s lives. We do everything together.

“It’s always harder when we lose, but instead of being negative or focusing on the defeat, we strategize what went wrong, what we can do better, and do our best to apply the lessons in our next game.”

His teammates showed support during his recovery by visiting and making phone calls, constantly checking on his progress. “The team really is my second family. I’m going to miss them all when I leave.”

While Parrish will miss his second family after graduating in May, he still misses the love and support of his mother, father and younger sister. He makes it a point to visit home during all of the college breaks. cooking meals and watching movies together.

“When I was in high school I usually tried to get out of the house when I could,” Parrish said. “Now I cherish every minute I get to spend at home because I don’t see them very often.”

One of Parrish’s favorite college moments occurred in the home finale when his father was able to make the long trip to Wilmington, surprising his son with his appearance. The younger Parrish was honored before the game, taking the field with his father to accept a framed jersey with his number. David and Michael glowed happily with his mother and sister in the stadium lights during the ceremony.

Michael then tallied an assist in the game and helped secure a 4-2 triumph over Northeastern.

“He loved it,” Parrish said. “There was a point where my mother and sister had left because of the weather, but I saw my dad. He stayed, and I could see on his face he was so happy to be there.” 

After fighting through a grievous injury and a family tragedy, the resilient Parrish has overcome it all and finished his career strong.

“I’ve loved every bit of it. My dad came and saw me win, and I was surrounded by my best friends and family at the game. There’s nothing more I can ask for.”