Published January 29. 2013 4:00AM
New London - Duane Maranda was the football coach at New London High School for only a few weeks last summer when he had a conversation with former coach Jeff Larson about the players who had been filtering through the weight room.
"He said, 'How about Orrin Parke?'" Maranda said, telling the story of how he first came to know of Parke. "I said, 'Who?' … And he had been in and out of the weight room, but he doesn't ever say a word."
And that sums up Parke, a junior at New London who not only was the Whalers' starting running back during a 7-3 season, but has left his footprints all over the school's track renaissance.
Parke will run the sprints at Saturday's Eastern Connecticut Conference indoor track championship at the Coast Guard Academy (10 a.m. for Large schools, 4 p.m. for Medium/Small schools) and everyone is certain to notice him.
He set the school record in the 55-meter dash already this season in 6.64 seconds. Also, the Whalers won the Shoreline Conference Coaches' Invitational meet in January, with the explosive Parke finishing first in the dash, as well as contributing to a victory in the 4x200 relay.
Just don't ask him to broadcast his own accomplishments.
"He broke Jevon Elmore's indoor record (in the 55)," indoor track coach Bob Castronova said. "I asked him, 'Did you tell your parents?' 'No.' 'Well go home tonight and tell them.'"
"I have Orrin in class," New London teacher Linda Pfeiffer said, walking through the midst of an interview with Parke recently in the foyer of the school's gym. "He never speaks. He lets his actions speak for him."
Then there's Maranda, who when his football team takes long trips, say to Woodstock Academy, enjoys the fact that it's Parke who sits directly behind him in the front of the bus. Things stay a little quieter that way.
"I like to think before I speak, mostly," said Parke, who doesn't mind the good-natured ribbing about his relative silence. "I just go out there and do the best I can."
Parke said track was his first sport. From the time he was in second grade he ran recreational meets, such as Hershey's Track and Field events, and competed for the Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School team.
"Everyone would want to race me because they thought I was fast," Parke said. "I enjoyed running. It was a fun thing to do. I wasn't sure about football, but others asked me to play."
This season, Maranda and his staff had three or four running backs set to be in the mix, the coach said, when the Whalers opened with a 39-6 victory over Killingly. Parke had only four carries, but ran for 69 yards and a touchdown, giving him an average of more than 17 yards per carry.
"One play we ran stretch right. He turned the corner and cut," Maranda said of the moment Parke became the starting running back. "… He had some real good breakout games. He was a difference-maker for us. We knew we could throw the football; the games we did well, we ran the ball, too."
Parke finished the season with 123 carries for 777 yards, eight rushing touchdowns and two receiving TDs. He averaged 6.23 yards per carry, had three straight 100-yard rushing games in October and was named to the All-ECC Large Division honorable mention team.
Maranda said Parke has exceptional balance, with opponents needing to completely wrap him up in order to tackle him. He said Parke, who is listed at 5-foot-8, 158 pounds, is a regular in the weight room.
"He finished one lift and I asked if he wanted to go up and he just nodded his head," Maranda said. "He just squatted 315 pounds and is going to keep going up (in weight). You think you'd get a fist pump or something. … You'll be walking down the hall and he'll smile at you with that big smile. That's his way of acknowledging you."
"I could put him in the gym by himself and he would still do his workout," Castronova said of Parke's work ethic. "He never takes a practice off. He's the hardest working kid."
College coaches have started to ask about Parke, who was fourth in the state Class M meet last year in the 55 and the 300, earning him a spot on The Day's All-Area team during the indoor season.
And fellow New Londoners have taken notice of the track program, which had close to 100 athletes outdoors and has more than 50 indoors.
"Chop (boys' basketball coach Craig Parker) came up to me and said 'Congratulations' after we won," Castronova said. "It's nice to get that. ECCs is going to be a challenge (against the Large Division schools), but so far we've been able to compete with some teams."
"We have one of the smallest teams," Parke said, asked to describe the Whalers' successes this season. "So it's a pleasant surprise."