He played a total of two plays, and all on special teams.
He’s not on scholarship.
There are no guarantees he’ll be on the team in the fall.
For Ryan Parris of Madison, Ala., limited participation in Alabama’s 2016 spring game might have been the beginning and the end of his college football career.
If that was it, and the parasitic amoeba fighting to take over his left eye forces him to give up on his dream, then at least he had the opportunity to run down the field inside Bryant-Denny Stadium in front of nearly 80,000 fans.
Why did an Alabama walk-on football player participate in Saturday’s A-Day game when there is an amoeba attacking his eye? Three reasons. One, he loves football. Two, he loves Alabama. Three, he’s really, really tough.
He also follows all of Nick Saban’s rules.
On Saturday, he wouldn’t talk to me about his amoeba and his long battle against the persistent little devil because talking to reporters without permission is not part of “the process.” Parris doesn’t fear the parasite that’s doing the backstroke atop his cornea. He does, however, fear Saban.
For those unfamiliar with amoebae, science calls them single-celled animals that catch food and “move about by extending finger-like projections or protoplasm.” They live in damp warm places, or in your eyes.
In other words, Ryan has the mother of all eye floaters. But this one is eating his eye.
Doctors call this rare affliction Acanthamoeba keratitis. In short, a microscopic organism has invaded Ryan’s eye and is threatening his vision. It’s scary.
If you want to cheer for one player next season no one has ever heard of, then make Ryan Parris your guy. He’ll be the redshirt freshman backup long snapper wearing new age rec-specs.
For now, Ryan is OK, and on track to participate in Alabama’s offseason conditioning program. A few days ago, he thought his career might be over.
Last Monday, or only six days before his first A-Day game, Ryan’s vision in his left eye had deteriorated to the point of legal blindness. He had been battling the amoeba in his left eye for months, and suddenly the amoeba seemed to be winning.
Ryan’s father was there in the doctor’s office in Birmingham when his son couldn’t read the first letter on the eye chart.
“But that’s not it,” Butch Parris said. “So, after he couldn’t read any of the chart, the technician put her hand up in front of his face about two feet.”
Ryan could see a hand moving, but couldn’t count the fingers.
After months of treatment, and with the spring game so close, things were going from bad to blind. The ophthalmologist gave Parris 48 hours.
If his vision didn’t improve, then he would probably need a corneal transplant. The doctor increased Ryan’s medication, and the family hoped for the best.
“We really just bombed his eye with medicine,” Butch said.
Ryan’s eyesight improved, and he avoided a corneal transplant. The procedure would likely have ended his college football career before it even started. Ryan redshirted last year, and he’ll likely be on the sidelines next season behind senior long snapper Cole Mazza.
But never mind football.
At this point, the Parris family just wants their son to be healthy, and have the chance to enjoy college like a normal student. The last six months have been hell.
For one thing, the eye drops needed to beat back the amoeba have been a hassle. When Ryan first started his treatment, he had to give himself one drop every hour. Naturally, the drops needed to be refrigerated at all times.
You know those Yeti cooler cups that are the height of Southern posh-neck fashion? They keep Bud Light and bourbon cold, sure, but they can also double as a portable fridge for amoeba-fighting eye drops.
Parris walked around campus all winter with a Yeti tumbler. It never carried a drink.
“He has been using it to carry his medicine,” Butch Parris said.
And by “medicine,” Butch actually means medicine.
The eye drops are nothing, really, when compared to one of Ryan’s other medical interventions. The transplantation of “amniotic membrane discs” is an interesting thing. We’ll let Ryan’s father explain: “They take shavings from the placenta after the birth of a woman who has had a C-section.”
And they drop it on the eye like a blanket.
“This is where medicine loses me,” Butch Parris said. “I’m not a dumb guy, but this is unbelievable what they do.”
Ryan began feeling irritation in his eye last November. It started the day of Alabama’s game against LSU.
“We had some friends we were tailgating with, and he showed up and his eye looked terrible,” said Ryan’s father. That was the beginning of it. The amoeba was starting to grow.”
Squeamish words. If you feel the need to rub your eyes while reading this column…do not.
The Parris family still isn’t sure how Ryan contracted the amoeba. Most likely, he washed his contacts incorrectly. Here’s a pro tip: never use tap water or your mouth for the job.
“It could have been any number of things, and we’ll never really know for sure,” said Ryan’s father, “but the highest risk group to get this are teenagers wearing contacts. Because teenagers are less likely to wash their hands properly, and less likely to clean them properly.”
(Teenagers are also less likely to read this column, unfortunately.)
Amoebae like Ryan’s can live in between the space where a contact meets the eye. If left untreated, the disease can cause blindness. Ryan isn’t “out of the woods,” says his father, but he is expected to make a full recovery.
Of course, the great irony of Ryan’s troubles this past winter and spring is that long snappers don’t need extraordinary vision to do their jobs. It’s all muscle memory. The long snapper at Tulane, Aaron Golub, is legally blind.
Golub and Parris shared the same long-snapping coach in high school, guru Chris Rubio (RubioLongSnapping.com). Rubio has put hundreds of undersized football players into college by turning them into long snappers. Parris is only 6-1, 209 pounds.
“If a D-III linebacker or a high school linebacker can snap the hell out of the ball, he can end up becoming a D-I long snapper,” Rubio said.
That’s how Parris got to Tuscaloosa. He was the center for James Clemens High School in Madison before being invited to walk on at Alabama. Parris played in one playoff game his entire high school career. To prepare for college, he attended offseason camps for long snapping and mastered the art.
He’s so good at long snapping, Parris could do it blindfolded. Or with a single-celled organism fluttering its protoplasm in his cornea.