Jordin Sparks is an "American Idol." Her father, Phillippi Sparks, started at cornerback for the NFL's Giants in the 1990s. Amazingly, it's possible that neither of them will go down as the most talented member of the Sparks family. That's because the younger Sparks' sibling, 17-year-old P.J., is in the middle of a breakout senior football season that could land him a spot at a Pac-10 school, and all the high-wattage hype that comes with being a West Coast collegiate running back.
To be fair, P.J. -- the letters stand for Phillippi Jr. -- has a long ways to go. Still, the senior back has led Mountain Ridge (Ariz.) High to an impressive 5-2 start entering its Oct. 22 homecoming game, largely based on his 97 yards-per-game rushing and 10 touchdowns. Of those 10, more than one have come on explosive breakaways from midfield, stats borne out by his 7.4 yards-per-rush average.
Those stats got better on Friday, with Sparks' 79-yard touchdown run in the second half helping Mountain Ridge rally for a 17-16 win over Willow Canyon. At 6-2, the Mountain Lions are in strong shape for a state playoff run.
"Carrying the NFL player thing with him, to hear it from someone with a name behind it, it has a lot more weight," Sparks told the Republic of his father, who has attended each of P.J.'s games despite spending significant time in New York for media work with the Giants. "The biggest thing he told me is that football is here for a moment, and education lasts a lifetime."
That advice has helped put Sparks back on some recruiters' radar after academic struggles earlier in his career. The senior has pushed his GPA to 3.4, and while the running back refuses to discuss his own recruiting for fear of taking the spotlight off teammates, Arizona and Arizona State are both reportedly interested in the 5-foot-9 all-purpose back.
No matter where Sparks ends up, he knows he can count on his sister to help guide his next step. Now performing on Broadway, Jordin Sparks became the youngest "American Idol" winner when she emerged victorious from the reality-show competition in 2007.
P.J. Sparks says the relationship between he and his sister has never changed, no matter how much fame has come her way.
"She's my best friend," P.J. said. "She is always encouraging me. She's a positive person in my life."
The two are incredibly close, as you can see in this video they shot backstage when Jordin was at the Super Bowl. The two playfully mugged for the camera, just as they did in the family photo used in this Arizona Republic story.
Whether P.J. Sparks ever reaches the levels of fame attained by his sister and father is still largely to be seen, but one thing is certain: His accomplishments on the football field will always take a back seat to his family.
"Our family has always been there for each other," the running back told the Republic.