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Rivalry Diminished

Posted Jun 6, 2012

With job at stake rookie LBs Parker, Vassallo set aside ASU-UofA feelings

Rookie linebackers Colin Parker (97) and Paul Vassallo (48) talk with Sam Acho (94) during an OTA this week in Tempe.

Their lockers are nowhere near each other, although that is more coincidence and a lack of locker space than the need to separate a pair of bitter rivals.

Rookie inside linebacker Colin Parker went to Arizona State University. Rookie inside linebacker Paul Vassallo went to the University of Arizona. The potential there is for ugly. “They get in fights every single day,” fellow linebacker Sam Acho said. “They can’t stand each other.”

Acho can’t keep a straight face. Despite their college backgrounds, the only fight Parker and Vassallo engage in daily is the one to win a roster spot.

It’s odd, of course. Like many college rivalries, a degree of hate seeps in for awhile. Then Parker and Vassallo end up on the same team in the NFL – in the virtual backyards of their schools – and everything changes.

“You kind of forget – to a certain point – they went to your rival school,” Parker said. “Paul and my relationship is cool. We try to help each other as much as we can. We may be chasing the same roster spot in the end, but right now, he’s my teammate and I am going to help him as much as he helps me.”

Both are undrafted rookies. Their chances are uphill to begin with. For now, Parker runs third-string on the inside, next to 2011 sixth-round pick Quan Sturdivant, behind Paris Lenon, Daryl Washington, Stewart Bradley and Reggie Walker. Vassallo is another tick further down the depth chart.

That’s the focus now. There’s no time for college bitterness.

Besides, that was eased at the Casino del Sol all-star game in January, a game in which both Parker and Vassallo were joined by three teammates each. The first day the team came together, Parker and his mates were at a table next to a table with Vassallo and his mates.

“There was kind of that tension at first, I’m not going to lie,” Parker said. “We were kind of exchanging looks back and forth. We didn’t really want to say anything to each other. But once we got to know the guys, they were normal guys.”

Said Vassallo, “Colin eventually end up running with myself and another linebacker from Arizona, so it was a little weird and took some getting used to, but it was fun.”

Vassallo, originally from Reno, Nevada, appreciates the chance to play for the team so close to college, especially since his family moved to Tucson after he started in college.

“This state has been good to me,” Vassallo said.

Parker is thrilled too. He grew up in Chandler, about 20 minutes from the Cardinals’ facility. His father, Anthony Parker, also played at ASU and followed up with a nine-year NFL career as a defensive back.

With all those things in their favor, a little shared time with a rival isn’t important, although Vassello admitted with a smile “we go at it every day -- there is an ASU-UofA comment, somehow, some way.”

College rivalries aren’t hidden in the NFL, of course. Defensive backs Patrick Peterson and Rashad Johnson talked quite a bit last season when Peterson’s LSU Tigers and Johnson’s Alabama Crimson Tide were battling for a national title. Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell chirp during Florida State-Miami. Texas alum Acho said he still gives a hard time to rookie cornerback Jamell Fleming for going to Oklahoma.

“But now we are all on the same team, all fighting for the same goal, the same cause,” Acho said. “You never thought that’d happen when you were in college. You hated them. Now you’ve got to love them.”

Maybe that’s because there are other things that take precedent – in the case of Parker and Vassallo, just keeping a job.

“It’s different (than college) because I don’t have four years guaranteed – it’s right now or nothing,” Parker said. “You have to approach every day like it’s your last and do your best, because you can’t control who people are going to play. You do what you can and hope it works out in the end.”


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