Charlie Parrish has always wanted to match up with the best competition.
The Freeburg High School cross country and track and field star will get his wish with the Kansas State Wildcats, members of the Big 12 Conference.
Parrish, who placed seventh in the Class 1A state cross-country meet last fall (15:06) and seventh in the 3,200-meter in the Class 2A state track meet last spring (9:35.08), chose the Wildcats over Eastern Illinois, Saint Louis University, Bradley, Butler and Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
Parrish, a senior, also visited Louisville and Purdue. Neither made an offer, but even if they had, Parrish said Kansas State was the overwhelming favorite.
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"Growing up in a small town and being a Class 1A kid, you don't compete against the best competition all the time," Parrish said. "I wanted to have that opportunity of going to a much bigger school and competing in the Big 12 against Oklahoma State, Texas and Iowa State week in and week out, having the opportunity to run against the best.
"K-State, even with (having) 20,000 students, I felt like I was at home. It had a rural feel. I felt like I fit in there. That was the place for me."
Parrish, a straight-A student every year at Freeburg, will major in civil engineering, with an emphasis in environmental engineering. Much of his scholarship money is coming from academics. He is the son of Doug Parrish and Kathy Stein.
Carl Florczyk has coached Parrish in cross country and believes his best days are ahead of him.
"I know he's very excited," Florczyk said. "He's going to run cross country and track for them and he's going to do a tremendous job for them. He's going to continue to improve. I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do at the next level.
"He does all the little things right. He's always doing everything he can as far as his fitness. Not just the workouts in practice, but with nutrition and getting the right amount of sleep. He does all the stretches and the core work, Yoga, all the supplemental work it takes to keep your body healthy and strong. That's what sets him apart from a lot of high-school athletes."
Charlie Parrish said he's joining an up-and-coming cross country program at Kansas State. The Wildcats placed fourth in the Big 12 and 10th in the Midwest Regional last year.
"They're kind of riding that momentum right now," Parrish said. "I'm hoping to come in and (help) keep it rolling. ... Two or three years down the road, we're going to be competing for a conference title and be one of the best teams in the Midwest Region."
College cross-country races will be more demanding, and the courses more challenging. Parrish believe he can adapt.
"A lot of (races) will be 8K, which is just short of 5 miles," Parrish said. "Postseason will be 10K, which is 6.2 (miles). That's double what we were doing in high school.
"The longer the race gets, the better I am. The change from high school to college won't be that big of a deal. I'm sure it will take some getting used to, but I think I'll be able to jump right in and go to work right away."
Parrish is focused on his final track and field season at Freeburg. He will compete in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200, with designs on winning a Class 2A state title in the 3,200.
"I didn't have the greatest cross country season last year, so now I'm all on track. We'll see how it goes," said Parrish, who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 140 pounds. "I like to think I'm more distance-based, but I'm working on my speed a lot more than I have in the past. I'm trying to make that more of a priority.
"The ultimate goal is winning state. This year, it's state title or bust. If I don't, the whole season's going to be considered a disappointment to me."
In cross country, Parrish said: "I feel like I've come nowhere near my potential yet."
Parrish's best time in high school came during a regular-season meet in his junior year, when he ran a 15:03 on the state course at Detweiller Park in Peoria. So a few weeks later when he placed 13th in the state meet with a 15:24, Parrish was glum.
"I was seeing myself breaking 15 (minutes) and being in the top five," he said. "I had a disappointing race and felt like I let the team down. We still finished second. I had a hard time getting over that. It took months to get over that."
But the memories of the 15:03 race always will be with Parrish.
"I was tough, I was competitive, I hung on with a group of guys for the whole thing," he recalled. "I outkicked a guy at the end. That was my best race. ... It was just really a career day for me. Ever since then, it's been trying to get back up to that level."
Florczyk said setting a personal-record in cross country is more difficult than it seems.
"It's so hard because you've got to do it on that one day and the weather's got to be (cooperative)," he said. "There's always outside factors that affect a timed-race performance. You can't change the weather."
Parrish recently was named to the Illinois High School Association's All-Academic Team. He was the only metro-east student on the 26-member first team.
"He's just a wonderful young man," Florczyk said. "He's very hard-working. He's obviously a great talent, both academically and athletically.
"We may not ever see someone as dedicated as Charlie walk through our doors at Freeburg High School. He's a rare individual that will go, literally, the extra mile to be successful. We've had some great athletes here, but Charlie is one of a kind."