By Bill Sorrell
After Houston lost to Whitehaven last season in the second round of state playoffs, Houston offensive coordinator Ronnie Thompson texted Lincoln Pare telling him two goals for Pare’s senior season this year: Win a state championship and him to win Mr. Football.
“We got 50 percent of them accomplished,” said Thompson, who on Monday was in the Tennessee Titans’ Nissan Stadium for the state-wide Mr. Football awards.
Pare won Mr. Football for Class 6A, Houston’s first winner since Abe Felix in 2002.
“Very, very big,” said Pare, calling it “amazing” as finalists walked one by one to be recognized. “Every one in the room is clapping for you. It was amazing when they called my name. My heart dropped. I was very nervous. My feelings were going through the roof.
“Winning Mr. Football was one of my main goals going into my senior year. I thought I had a chance to be nominated and that was a bigger drive to get there.
“It means everything. Everybody who has doubted me and says ‘he can’t do it’ that a guy of my height (5-9) can be the best player. I proved everybody wrong. This will prove to coaches I am definitely a dog and I can play at the D-1 level and they should not be scared to pull the trigger.”
From the Ivy League (Dartmouth) to preferred walk-on offers from Power 5 conference schools (Virginia Tech, Ole Miss) and other college including Arkansas State, Navy and Richmond, Pare’s next goal is to go where he is wanted and “have a great season there.”
After the winners were announced and still at the stadium banquet hall, Thompson was holding the Mr. Football trophy and said to Pare, “Do you know how good you were in high school?” Pare said, “Not really until today.”
“It never dawned on him how good he really was and now he is the number one player in the state of Tennessee,” said Thompson. “Nobody deserves it more than Lincoln, the amount of work and effort he has put him to achieve what he did today. I can’t tell you how proud I am of him.”
Houston head coach James Thomas, who posed for a photo in the Titans’ locker room with Pare who held the trophy with a Titans jersey and Pare’s name and number behind them, called Pare a “once in a generation type running back.”
After the Mustangs 27-6 quarterfinal victory over Whitehaven that sent them to the state semifinals where they lost to Ravenwood 42-21 on Friday, Thomas said that Pare “is a great kid. He gets it done in the class room. He is a great leader. He is very special. He is the leader of our program. We couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Houston quarterback Ethan Burns said, “It’s great for Lincoln to win because it shows how hard he works and how good our team was this year. I think his work ethic drove his success. Wanting to be good isn’t enough so he had to put the work in to be where he is. He brought a running game to us this year that was even better than last year. This season was amazing,”
Houston finished 13-1, the most victories in school history and Pare set the single-season school rushing record as well as the school career rushing record.
Pare rushed for 2,804 yards, breaking Felix’s record of 2,601 yards set in 2001. Pare finished first in the state in rushing yardage, almost 500 yards ahead of second place finisher James Moore of Nashville Stratford who was named Class 3A Mr. Football.
Pare’s career rushing total was 5,658 yards, also topping Felix.
This season he scored 38 touchdowns, second in the state, four behind South Doyle’s Elijah Young who was named Class 5A Mr. Football.
“His yardage speaks for itself and how hard he works. He is at the highest level in Tennessee,” said Thompson, who saw Pare rush for 129 yards and score two touchdowns against Whitehaven, which has three linebackers committed to Tennessee.
“We played four playoff games and two of the first games he took the first play he touched the ball to the house setting the stage for our team.”
Burns said, “From our freshman year we knew that our class of seniors was going to do something special when we got the chance to prove how good we really were.”
Thompson said, “I always tell people its real easy to be the offensive coordinator at Houston High School when Lincoln Pare is your running back.”
Thompson has coached Pare since the seventh grade when he was the middle school coach.
“We have won at every level,” said Thompson.
Calling Mr. Football the equivalent of college’s Heisman Trophy, special teams coordinator, wide receivers coach , outside linebackers coach Shawn Abel said, “It’s an all-around victory for us. We all feel it. We are so thrilled for Lincoln and his family.
“Lincoln is a super kid. He is very intelligent, school-conscious, everything you want in an all-around student athlete. He has great hands. He can catch the ball in the backfield and do the same damage (as running). He is a gifted athlete.”
If Abel had to sum up Pare in one word he said it would be “heart.”
“He fells like he is going into the end zone every time. He is always churning extra yardage, protecting the football. Typically we don’t fumble or throw interceptions. He is always concentrating on what he has got to do. He is relentless.”
Last year when Pare rushed for 2,143 yards and scored 31 touchdowns while being named Region 7-6A Offensive Player of the Year, an award he also won this year, Thompson said that he did not think there was a better running back in the state.
“Incredible. I’ve told him when I didn’t think you could do any better, he surpassed what he had done before. He got better and better. He was pushing the numbers to make our team even better. He put two and two together of how good he really was in high school, how much he loved the game.
“The number one thing and he will be the first to tell you he will compliment the offensive line for getting the yards he has. He is a team player and a true team captain. He is constantly giving credit to somebody else.
“It was a true community effort. Two of our starting offensive linemen go out for the year (left guard Harry Wilkes, right guard Jerron Watson) in games one and two. We plugged in (freshman) Luke Needham (left guard) and Jaylin Lee (right guard) came over from defense.
“I can’t tell you how much those guys bonded and sacrificed for the team, saying, ‘This is what we need to do to get where we need to go’ and put all personal goals aside.”
Thomas said that Pare’s long runs would not happen were it not for blocking to keep players from chasing him down.
“That is what you love to see on a team,” said Thomas.
Pare’s favorite game was against Collierville, a 56-28 victory where he rushed for 362 yards and scored five touchdowns.
“Everybody was playing together. Our team stuck to the coaches’ game plan. I’m glad we had a great season.”
His parents Mike and Sheri Pare and sister Anderson Pare, a Houston sophomore, attended with the Mr. Football event with him.
He called the it professional and after a luncheon that included chicken and cake, “We got down to business.”
Thompson said it was like one of his own children graduating.
“I can’t put it into words. I got nervous when he went up there. He was confident he was going to win because of his stats. We watched him accept the trophy on behalf of himself and Houston. It was a special day.”
For Abel, whose son Jonathan Abel played football at Lambuth University and Collierville High School, he knew that his parents’ hearts were pounding before the announcement.
“There is a sense of pride beyond your wildest dreams. I was just as happy for his parents as Lincoln. The sacrifices, the work that got him to where he is,” said Abel.
“Lincoln has a lot of poise. He is an impressive young man. He doesn’t have a lot of attitude. He is yes sir, no sir. He has overcome people judging him by his size.”
A key to Pare’s success has been his strength through weight lifting and conditioning. He is the only player that Thompson has made stop working out for a 7-day period during the spring of his junior and senior years.
“He loves it,” said Thompson.
Pare credits Raheem Shabazz, Houston strength coach, as a key to success. Since seventh grade, Shabazz has worked with him.
“It has been incredible,” said Pare, whose bench press is 315 pounds. He has a 500-pound squat and 300-pound power clean. He runs the 40 in 4.5 seconds.
“My main inspiration is to prove that I am a player that can be great. Since I was a little kid that if I was going to be great, there was nothing that was going to stop me and I got a lot more to prove,” said Pare, adding that his faith helped him.
“It’s amazing. I trust in God. All I can do is be thankful for all He has done for me.”
Pare may have had more yardage had he not sat out fourth quarters because of Houston’s victory margins.
Thompson said that Pare “is an everyday back in college, in any conference, anywhere. His work ethic alone will get him on the field. They need to get on board.”
Abel called Pare’s winning a feather in Houston’s cap.
Both Abel and Thompson appreciate the hard work that Thomas has put in.
“I think in general it (Pare’s award) speaks volumes that the program is on the rise with Coach Thomas building the program the last two years. He has done a great job,” said Thompson.
“We develop kids to get them to the next level and that speaks volumes. Lincoln knows who Abe Felix is. We have done a good job of setting the stage for them. The kids know there have been sacrifice of time and energy to get Houston to where it is today. This didn’t happen over the last two years. There were a lot of kids before Lincoln who allowed him to accomplish what he did today.
“You don’t take anything for granted. It was a special day. It was special for me how hard he has worked, how bad he wants everything. His winning today was another validation of how good Lincoln is and today his work and effort showed.”
Abel has seen how modest Thomas is in running the program.
“He is the cool head, the glue. He knows that the program is bigger than any accolade. Winning cures everything. It puts us on the map. I feel great about the staff. It is the most cohesive I have ever worked with. I am thrilled to be a part of it. This all culminates in Lincoln winning,” said Abel.
Said Thompson, “I can coach 15 to 20 more years and I don’t think there will ever be another Lincoln Pare.”