COLUMBIA – When the scoreboard clock hits zero, Brayden Parker has two minutes.
He sprints down the sidelines, dodging his teammates like a car in the wrong lane, weaving through the Rock Bridge football team at halftime.
Flying toward the end zone, Parker abruptly stops. In one fluent motion, he removes his helmet, tears off his jersey and slides off his pads. With seconds remaining, he swiftly turns to his left, is gently handed his instrument and marches onto the field.
Parker, a sophomore at Rock Bridge High School, is a center on the Bruins' football team and a tenor saxophonist for the marching band.
“It’s a lot to juggle,” he said, smiling.
Parker has been playing both sports and music for the past five years, and though he is constantly busy, his passion for both activities makes it an easy sacrifice. He arrives at school every morning for his 7 a.m. band practice and stays as late as 6:30 p.m. for the end of football practice.
“You go to bed, and then you start the day over again,” Parker said. “Big time commitment, but I mean, it’s just fun.”
As the band performs its routine, it’s easy to spot Parker. His white football pants and emerald green Under Armour T-shirt do not fit in with the sharply dressed marching band.
“You see Brayden out of the corner of your eye sticking out like a sore thumb in his Under Armour stuff,” said Parker’s friend Patrick Smith, a sophomore alto saxophonist for the band. “He’s also like twice as big as everybody else out there. I wish I could watch from the stands how he marches and fits in, or doesn’t fit in, with everyone else.”
His parents have become used to his unique appearance in the marching formations.
"The first time we actually saw him march in a competition, we had a hard time picking him out because he wasn't wearing white pants," his father, David Parker said.
At 6 feet 4 inches and 250 pounds, Parker’s size is a perfect fit for football. He is starting at center for the Bruins' junior varsity team and is considered the third string center for varsity.
But for the band, his size, and football cleats, can sometimes be a recipe for disaster.
“They’re all marching in flat-footed shoes, and I’m still in my cleats,” Parker said. “Cleats are good for traction, not for marching, so when I’m trying to back up or slide forward, I’ll trip up a couple times.”
His friend has noticed.
“Let’s just say graceful would not be the first word I would use,” Smith added.
For now, Parker can continue his halftime marches, but as he gets older and plays a more prominent role on the varsity team, he might have to make a decision about which activity to put his main focus on.
But regardless of what the future holds, in the present, he takes full advantage of his passion for both.
“I can always pick up a football and toss it in the backyard, or go pick up my saxophone and start playing," Parker said. "It’s great that I can do both."
The football team is already in the end zone practicing as Parker finishes his performance.
With his final march toward the sideline, Parker hands off his saxophone and sprints toward his uniform.
Within seconds, his jersey is tucked in, his pads are buckled tight and his helmet is on.
Now he's back to football.