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KcMizzou
11-23-2007, 03:15 AM
Maclin’s other family helped him get to Mizzou

By BILL REITER | THE KANSAS CITY STAR

KIRKWOOD, Mo. | Jeremy Maclin should have grown up here, in this troubled neighborhood where gangs roamed the streets and the cupboards were often bare. He probably should have failed here, too.

But the place he ended up, living with strangers who became family 14 miles up the highway, is a 5,900-square-foot home in the leafy suburb of Chesterfield. He moved there after his grade-school football coach took him in. It is a world of wealth, rules, privilege and stability.

The difference just might be a national championship for the Missouri Tigers.

“Growing up where I’m from, there are gangs and all that kind of stuff,” MU’s freshman wide receiver said. “I was never a part of that, but I was on the streets. If I’d have gotten older there, and school would have gone down the drain for me, who knows what I’d be doing now?”

Most likely, friends and family agree, something other than tearing up the Big 12.

The 19-year-old Maclin has put up numbers that make him one of the country’s most successful freshmen: An MU single-game record of 360 all-purpose yards last weekend against Kansas State, including a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, Mizzou’s first since 1982. With 2,309 all-purpose yards in 11 games, he’s already broken the NCAA single-season record for freshmen.

He’s also the only person in the country with touchdowns via receiving (nine), rushing (four), punt returns (two) and kickoff returns (one).

“That dude is the real deal,” Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib said. “I enjoy just watching him on ‘SportsCenter.’ He probably won’t use up all of his eligibility in college. He’ll be out real early.”

But all of this — the accolades, the talk of being one of the finest talents ever to don the black and gold, the success he’s helped his team attain — almost never happened. Before big-time football programs came recruiting, he was a kid whose father had left years earlier and whose mother struggled to raise him. His grades slipped, his prospects dimmed and his life started to go the way of the urban cliché: So much talent, too many obstacles.

Then the family up the road said enough.

•••

“This all goes back to coaching little-league football,” Jeff Parres said, leaning back against a couch in his living room, the floor-to-ceiling windows behind him looking out on the homes of his wealthy neighbors.

On a nearby table are pictures of the Parres family — his kids, Tyler and Mitchell, his wife, Cindy, and Jeremy. The family laughing at a water park. The family on vacation. The family at birthday parties. Jeremy is in every single photo.

It started 10 years ago with another year of football. Jeff, a urologist, was the coach.

“The team was in Kirkwood, and about one-third of the players came from underprivileged backgrounds,” he said.

Even by that standard, “Jeremy had a pretty tough life,” he said. “He didn’t have a ride to and from practice. The other kids would show up and say, ‘There’s another kid who wants to play, but he needs a ride.’ ”

No problem. Jeff wanted to help. He could drive the 9 year old home. He had no idea what he was getting himself into.

“My mom was always in between jobs,” Jeremy said. “Didn’t have a father at home. She had an alcohol problem. That makes it pretty rough. She tried. She did her best. But she was never financially stable. She was an alcoholic, so things …”

He pauses. Stops. Goes on, quietly. “I spent most of my time by myself.”

It didn’t take long for Jeff and Cindy to notice things weren’t the way they should be.

“It would put me in a particularly tough spot,” Jeff said. “A dark house. Locked. No way for him to get in. No food. Weekdays were tough. And there were times where we’d leave Jeremy at home, not sure if and when anyone would show up.”

Jeff and Cindy Parres had jobs. Their own kids. They lived in another part of town. How do you decide, no matter how good your intentions, to take on another child? Even if you can see they need your help?

“It wasn’t easy,” Cindy said.

Lost in all of this was the kid’s skill. He didn’t exactly jump off the field as the future of Missouri football. He was skinny and introverted. He seemed like a nice, quiet kid, not a game-changer.

But man, when he got on that field, was he fast.

“He’d do what he’s doing now, beating guys to the corner,” Jeff said. “But, at that level, it wasn’t that unusual.”

This is where Parres went from being a coach to something else. There was no way to take a kid home to an empty house — the lights off, the doors locked, no food in the kitchen and no guarantee anyone would be home anytime soon — without driving back those 14 miles to his mansion in the suburbs wondering, “What do I do here?”

•••

It was gradual. Everyone agrees on that.

“Me and their son were best friends on the team,” Jeremy said. “I went over there a few times and spent nights there, and that’s how it started.”

First came a night every now and then. Then weekends. Family vacations. A few weeks in a row. Whole summers.

“By the time he was 11, he was spending summers and vacation and holiday breaks with us,” Cindy said. “He was family.”

As Jeremy got ready for high school, the Parres family tried to figure out how best to help him. He was spending a lot of time at their home, and they thought a school close to them would be good for his education, but they didn’t want to pry.

“We did everything we could to keep him with his mom,” Cindy said.

They looked into putting Jeremy into the same private school their kids attended. They’d pay for it, they said, but Jeremy wanted to attend Kirkwood High School with his friends.

Then Jeremy’s mom said she wanted to move to St. Louis — and take Jeremy with her. His older brothers, who’d helped raise him and look out for him, had left home for college. So Jeff and Cindy agreed to pay for an apartment for Jeremy and his mom until she could find a job and get on her own two feet. That lasted nine months.

Then, a problem.

“Around ’02 he got really, really bad — my mom, in my opinion, she lost her drive for a time being,” said Andre Maclin, Jeremy’s brother. “The reason behind it? Who knows? Whenever you’re raising a teenager, they need all the attention and care in the world. When they don’t get it they can stray and wander off.”

Jeremy strayed.

“Jeremy had more freedom,” Andre said. “Staying out later. Not doing his homework on time.”

Something had to be done. Andre called the Parres family. They agreed things couldn’t stay this way.

For a few months, Jeremy lived with one of his high school football coaches. Then, when he turned 16, the Parres family made the decision.

He would live with them. Indefinitely. He was family now.

“He is a good kid,” Jeff said. “And this wouldn’t work if he wasn’t a good kid. I know other people who have done the same thing with other players. And it didn’t work.”

The transition was seamless.

“I felt like I was already a part of the family,” Jeremy said. “That’s how much I was there.”

They bought him a car. They got his grades up. They laid down the law and showered him with love. They started worrying about how to pay for another college education.

Then the letters started coming.

Notre Dame. Michigan State. Iowa. Everyone wanted him.

It turned out Jeremy wasn’t just good at football. He was amazing. Coaches sat Jeff and Cindy down and showed them tape. They wanted the couple to see what they saw.

“I thought he was good,” Cindy said with a laugh. “But I really just thought that I was biased.”

•••

Jeremy Maclin walked among the media this week, a cell phone glued to his ear, a large “M” carved into the left side of his hair.

He sat down in a chair and smiled.

“It’s been good,” he said. “You can’t ask any more than to be in this position. We’re in the national-championship race. Everything’s going as planned. We’re right in the position we want to be in.”

He doesn’t want to talk about himself, but people keep asking.

Tell us about the touchdowns.

Tell us about the stats.

Tell us how it feels to be this good.

“All this, all my stats, all that’s not possible without the guys on the field with me,” he said. “Yeah, I’ve done what I’ve done, but none of that’s possible without them.”

Back home, he knows, two families are waiting for him. There’s his mother, whom he loves deeply and still talks to often. She’s still in St. Louis and her situation remains a sensitive topic.

And then there’s the Parres family.

You ask about his mother, and he answers politely but quietly, “I love her. It’s obviously not a topic someone wants to talk about. It was hard.”

You ask about the Parres family, and he smiles. He wouldn’t be here without them. He knows that. He loves them, too.

“They’re more like a parent now,” he said. “They actually watched me do my homework. They set me up to go to college. Make sure I got my grades. They taught me manners. (Otherwise), who knows what I’d be doing today?”

No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 3 Missouri
7 p.m. Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium (Channels 2, 9)