UND Football: Sparks relies on grandpa's advice
P.J. Sparks says he and his grandpa, former UND tight end Jim Wiedmann, have similar personalities. So when it came to picking a college to attend, the high school senior listened. "(Wiedmann) talks about UND like it's a baby," Sparks said. "He l...
P.J. Sparks says he and his grandpa, former UND tight end Jim Wiedmann, have similar personalities.
So when it came to picking a college to attend, the high school senior listened.
"(Wiedmann) talks about UND like it's a baby," Sparks said. "He loves the school. It's something about UND that puts a sparkle in his eye. He told me to go to that school up there because it doesn't just set you up for four years; it sets you up for 40 years.
"I want to be a part of that experience."
Sparks, a 5-foot-9 running back from Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale, Ariz., signed a national letter of intent to play football at UND earlier this week.
Sparks has some famous family members. His sister, Jordin, is a 2007 American Idol winner and his father, Phillippi, is a former NFL defensive back, who played for the New York Giants (1992-99) and Dallas Cowboys (2000).
But Phillippi Sparks Jr. became UND's 19th commitment of the 2011 recruiting class by heeding the wisdom of Wiedmann, who played for the Sioux from 1968-70.
"If (Wiedmann) likes it, and he loved the experience, then I think I'll like it," Sparks said.
Sparks originally verbally committed to South Dakota State.
"South Dakota State had offered, and I was comfortable going there," Sparks said. "They have some great things going on there. I have a lot of respect with how they handled the situation. No one took (the change of commitment) lightly there, but at the end of the day, everyone understood that you have to do what's best for you."
At Mountain Ridge, Sparks was named to the 2010 All-Northwest Region first team. He finished his senior season with 125 carries for 1,007 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also tallied 131 yards on 12 receptions, including one for a touchdown.
Sparks said he expects to come to UND without the assumption that he'll redshirt his first season on campus.
"I'm going in to get that No. 1 spot," Sparks said. "If the depth chart looks good, then I'll play. If I'm not at that one, two or third spot, then a redshirt is likely and I'll keep working for it."
Sparks said apart from his grandpa's advice, UND's acceptance into the Big Sky played a big role in his commitment.
"There are a lot of changes happening at UND," Sparks said. "It's getting a new image, going and playing those West Coast teams. I wanted to be part of that first group of guys to make a foundation of UND in the Big Sky. It's also more convenient for my family. They can come watch my games or watch my games on TV."
Sparks has one another connection to UND. UND sophomore-to-be R.J. McGill, a wide receiver that played as a true freshman last fall, was Sparks' host on his campus visit. McGill and Sparks were high school opponents in Arizona.
"We grew up playing football together and our dads grew up playing against each other," Sparks said. "We're good friends. For me to go up there and have him show me around, I felt like I was at home. Every school I went to, I could say I fit in. But it's about where I fit in the most.
"I really built a good relationship with coach (Mike) Mannausau. The facilities also blew everyone out of the water. It's not the reason I went there, but it's a plus. For me, it's more about the whole college experience. It's not just playing football. It's big enough of a city, but small enough to make a name for myself in a positive way. I can set up some great things as far as my charity goes. It's a place I can be known for something good."
UND coach Chris Mussman was pleased to snag Sparks, both for his Sioux bloodlines and his athletic ability.
"Our football program has a long tradition of sons, brothers, and grandsons following footsteps and making the commitment to play at UND," Mussman said. "His commitment came in last minute after his campus visit last week. P.J. has quality character, great athletic ability and a real passion for the game. He'll be a great addition to this year's signing class and will help build our team for the future."
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