When N.C. Central kicker Oleg Parent thinks of the day his father killed his mother, he looks into space, as if recalling the memory, and begins to tap his foot.
Parent remembers it vividly. He was 3 years old in his house in St. Petersburg, Russia, sitting at a table eating macaroni with cheese sprinkled on top. His father, Alecsey Kolpin, – who Oleg says was a drug addict – walked into the kitchen and grabbed a kitchen knife, then left the room.
Too young to comprehend why his father would take a knife out of the kitchen, Oleg went back to eating. That’s when he heard the screams. He ran toward the room, peaked inside and saw his father stabbing his mother.
“I just ran. I just ran back in the kitchen,” Parent said recently. “I was sitting there confused. I was just sitting there.”
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The screaming stopped and his father walked out of the room with the bloody knife in one hand, and a towel in the other. He stopped, raised the knife and began to walk toward his son, Parent remembers.
“Am I next?” he asked himself.
“The screams were horrific,” Parent said. “They were just loud and the neighbors heard and broke the door and (subdued his father).”
With no aunts, uncles or grandparents to care for him, a police officer opened his home to Oleg for a month. Then he was sent to Russia’s Orphanage No.31. In Russia, the facilities are given numbers instead of names.
Ever since, he’s had dreams of that day – the scene of his father walking toward him with the bloody knife, wondering if he was next to die. He would wake up in the middle of the night terrified and screaming.
Parent still has the dreams, but he says they no longer haunt him.
For 12 years Oleg lived at No. 31, a big yellow two-story building with paint peeling off the sides. There were two buildings connected by a long dark hallway. Gates surrounded the fence to keep intruders out and children in.
The orphanage was one of the best in St. Petersburg, with about 140 kids in seven groups, Parent remembered.
However, there were bad days, especially when friends were adopted while he was left behind.
Oleg was noticeably taller than the other kids, skinny and pale. He had long hair combed to the side, blue eyes and wore hand-me-down clothes and shoes two sizes too big.
He and his best friend, Mikhail “Misha” Baghdanov longed for parents. Oleg was 8 and Misha was 7. When you ask Misha about his friend Oleg, he says, “You mean, my brother?”
“Me and Oleg were always troublemakers looking out for each other,” Misha said. “He watched my back and I would watch his.”
When Misha was 6 he was taken from his home after his mother sent him to the store to buy a pack of cigarettes. When he returned, police officers with assault rifles grabbed him and sent him to an orphanage. Angry, Misha was removed from multiple orphanages until he arrived at No. 31 and met Oleg.
“The kind of situation that we came from, it was very tough when you have no one,” Misha said. “It’s like being thrown in a prison with no one you know.”
Together they stuck it out. Together they prayed. Together they waited.
Together they watched friends find parents, but it was Oleg who watched the longest.
A California family adopted Misha when he was 12, after five years in the orphanage.
“I saw all of my friends leave,” Oleg said. “Every single one of them just left the orphanage and I’m stuck by myself without any friends.”
He was frustrated and heartbroken. He wondered if he would ever be adopted.
Hoping for a new family
By his 13th birthday, Oleg got a surprise visit from his biological father, who had just gotten out of prison after 10 years. He wanted his son back.
“He was pretty much trying to buy me out,” Oleg said. “He said ‘I’m going to buy you new shoes, take you to nice places,’ do this and that.”
But Oleg had his mind set on finding a new family. He needed a fresh start.
That same year, Oleg flew with a few other kids from the orphanage to Orange County, Calif. He and the others danced for a troupe in conjunction with Nightlight Christian Adoption Agency. They would do Russian folklore dances at theme parks and churches for couples who wanted to adopt.
In the crowd were Debra and Lu Parent, a couple unable to have a biological child. When they saw Oleg, it was a match, the son they had always wanted.
Debra Parent looked at her husband and said, “There’s our son right there.”
Lu Parent agreed.
“It was a gut feeling,” Lu Parent said. “We knew he would be a part of our lives.”
They tried to arrange for Oleg to be adopted but his biological father prevented that.
“He didn’t want me to go anywhere,” Oleg said.
The judge had to reschedule dates for court for a year, when his father failed to show for hearings. But his father was finally forced to surrender custody by default.
Debra and Lu Parent never gave up on Oleg. Lu Parent remembers pulling up to the orphanage in a van in April 2006 and seeing the boy he and his wife had determined would be their son playing soccer with other children.
Oleg spoke little English. He only knew how to say “hello.” Fortunately, Lu Parent knew Russian from his days as a translator in the military.
“It was nerve-racking meeting them,” Oleg Parent said. “I was nervous, but I fell in love with them immediately.”
A month later, “Mom” and “Pop” – as Oleg calls them – were on a plane taking their son home to California.
“It was surreal, and strange because we knew then that he was our son now,” Lu Parent said. “We just had to pinch ourselves.”
Adjusting to his new life
For Oleg Parent, this was a whole new life. He had a new younger sister – also adopted from Russia – who had already been in the States for a year and was used to being the princess of the family, Lu Parent said. But the dad said Oleg and his sister grew close.
They were the happy family Oleg Parent had longed for.
But in the fall of 2006, Debra Parent was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went through chemotherapy and multiple surgeries. She was diagnosed again in 2009. This time the cancer had spread to her other organs and eventually to her brain. Debra Parent passed away at 42.
Oleg Parent turned to soccer and football to cope with his grief. Kick after kick, he would release his emotions.
“After his mom got sick she would still go to the games, even though she could barely walk,” Lu Parent said, his voice cracking. He took a moment to recuperate. “So that was tough.”
Every time Oleg Parent hits a field goal he points to the sky at his mom, because he knows she’s looking down on him.
“(Oleg) was the apple of her eye,” Lu Parent said. “She wanted to give Oleg a home and hope. She wanted to see him become a successful and good man, an opportunity some of his fellow orphans wouldn’t get. It gave her strength during chemotherapy.”
Oleg Parent, a junior at N.C. Central, plays football now. He’s 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds, has an athletic build with dark short gelled hair, styled to the side, and an accent that goes unnoticed.
Oleg Parent was part of the first class coach Henry Frazier III and staff recruited three years ago. (Frazier was fired last Thursday after being suspended for violating a domestic violence protective order.)
“He was open to coming here and he had the skill set to play at this level, no question about that,” said special teams coach Mike Mendenhall. “And he did the work in high school academically. We reached out, we opened up the door for him, he was accepting of it and we said, ‘Let's go for it.’”
Oleg visited N.C. Central and liked it.
“It was different,” he said. “I tried to be a little different coming to an HBCU (historically black college and university). I didn’t know much but when coaches and my dad explained to me what an HBCU was I said “why not?”
He thought it would be a good fit and it was.
Mendenhall describes Oleg Parent as always joking and easy going. He’ll even do one of his Russian folklore dances for a reporter.
“That’s why I coach,” Mendenhall said. “That’s why I’m in this profession, for these types of stories. To see him fight against adversity and be successful, maintain his focus. That’s what’s important.”
Last year, Oleg Parent struggled on the field, hitting 11 of 21 field goals. His father flew from Lake Forest, Calif., to North Carolina to watch his son play from time to time. If he could not attend a game, he’d watch on a live stream or listen on the radio.
Oleg Parent played his best game on Nov.3 against Delaware State. Lu Parent was watching a live stream. Both teams were battling for second in the conference. The Eagles were down by three to the Hornets with a fourth down in overtime and the ball at the 30-yard line. A field goal would tie the game.
Oleg Parent had never made a field goal longer than 40 yards in his career as an Eagle and this kick would be 6 yards longer.
Oleg got set, then pointed to the sky to Debra Parent, the woman who pulled him from Orphanage No. 31 and gave him a home. He kicked the ball through the uprights, sending the crowd, coaching staff and his teammates into a frenzy.
But Oleg Parent had one more big play to make. After a defensive stop by the Eagles, he was put to the test again – this time to win the game. Delaware State coach called a timeout to freeze the kicker.
Oleg Parent came back out of the huddle, pointed to the sky at Debra Parent, and split the uprights.