LORRAINE WILLIAMS pored over numerous college applications with her son, Tyree Parks, desperate for him to escape the dangers that waited for him outside their door every day in their corner of South Philadelphia.

She knew college was her 18-year-old son's one-way ticket out of the world that had claimed the life of her eldest son eight years earlier.

So she was relieved when an acceptance letter came Friday from Bloomsburg University, and she was set to begin counting down the days until he left.

"He was on that right path," she said yesterday on the front porch of her home on Wharton Street near Stanley. "I asked the Lord to hold him until September."

But her prayers weren't answered. Her son was fatally shot that night on his way from coaching a youth basketball game at nearby Audenried High School.

Parks was walking down the street with his 9-year-old nephew and two boys - ages 13 and 14 - who belonged to the basketball league that Parks coached, said Homicide Lt. Philip Riehl.

Parks and the two teens had gotten into a fight earlier in the day with a group of young men at 29th and Dickinson streets.

"Apparently there was some physical altercation, and they were run out of that area," Riehl said.

Parks was left scared from the encounter - scared enough to be carrying a .32-caliber semiautomatic handgun when he was gunned down.

"Apparently he was fearful," Riehl said.

The drive-by shooting that claimed Parks' life nearly turned into a triple tragedy, Riehl said. Bullets ripped through both of the teens' clothing, barely missing their flesh.

A family friend, who lives near Parks' house but didn't want to be named, said that Parks had borrowed the gun he was carrying from a friend because he had been spooked by the fight.

He noted that Parks generally stayed out of trouble but hung out with people who had less-ambitious plans in life.

"He just got caught up in a bad situation," said the friend, 29. "By him carrying, it gave him a false sense of security in a territory he normally wouldn't walk around."

That sentiment is indicative of what Riehl called "a South Philly problem."

"Every year, it's a different corner, but nobody wants to help," he said.

Williams could attest to that.

She hadn't quite gotten used to life without eldest son, Dwayne, who was 18 when he was shot dead during a dispute at 33rd and Reed streets in 2002.

But she found comfort from her two remaining boys, Chris and her youngest, Tyree, who had taken on the responsibility of looking after his oldest brother's son.

Inside her home yesterday, numerous football and basketball trophies adorned the living-room shelves and windowsills. Parks' 9-year-old nephew, who Williams did not want to be identified, sifted through dozens of school and candid portraits of Parks at various stages of his life. .

Photos of Parks as an imposing 5-foot-11, 200-pound youth were balanced by shots of him as a chubby, dimpled grade-schooler with soft, almond-shaped eyes.

"He was like my dad," the little boy said.

"The two were inseparable," Parks' mother added. "Whenever he went out on a date, where were you?" she asked her grandson.

"I was with him," he replied, his head bowed, a stack of pictures still clasped in his tiny hands.

Parks was a big kid and a clown, Williams said, but had a maturity about him beyond his years.

"He did things grown men don't do," she said. "He always looked out for me."

He also was a standout football player at South Philadelphia High, coached several sports teams for neighborhood kids and served as a mentor, helping to keep many of them off the streets, she said. Plus, she added, her voice softening, he was loving.

"You know what's going to be the hardest part for me?" she asked two friends who stopped by the house yesterday.

"I'm used to him calling me during the day and asking, 'Lorraine, what you doing?' " she mimicked him. "And then he'd tell me, 'I love you.' "

Yesterday, school officials offered grief counseling for students and faculty grieving for the slain student, who was described as a "valued member of the school," said district spokeswoman Barbara Farley.

A power player on his football team, Parks started as a guard and defensive tackle.

Parks' coach, Stanley "Stosh" Tunney, recalled encouraging the star athlete earlier Friday to attend Bloomsburg University, his alma mater.

"We were laughing, joking, pushing each other around . . ." he said. "Then six hours later he's dead."

"We're all in shock," he said. "Devastated. Everyone's in tears."

At a team meeting yesterday, Tunney cautioned his hurting players not to retaliate and to remain strong.

Teammates described the teen, who made the coaches' AAAA Blue All-Public Team as a defensive lineman, as a leader.

"The younger players followed what he did," said Andrew Auer, 18, a senior at GAMP High who plays for South Philly High as a linebacker and fullback.

"He was a tough guy. This past season, he had broken his hand and wrist, and sprained his ankle, and he continued to play. I couldn't do that."

That's because he was determined, said another of Parks' teammates, Shaquille Gaskins, who had been good friends with Parks since they met at Head Start at age 4.

"I'm hurting," he said from his South Philly home last night.

"We played Peewee [football] together and got into high school football," said the star quarterback, who along with Parks, had been featured in the Daily News. "He was a nice kid, he was intelligent and a great athlete. He always tried to make a play.

"That's what I loved about him," said Gaskins, who often enjoyed playing spades with Parks during lunch. "He was always bringing something to the table."