February 26, 1997 in Sports

Perhaps Too Small For The Nfl, Or Perhaps Too Smart

John Blanchette The Spokesman-Re
 

Medicine has always been Brian Larsen’s long-range mission, and orthopedics his fascination.

Until he got a peek inside an operating room.

“Maybe I’ve seen too many knees lying the wrong way on a football field,” he said. “The first time they started doing a knee operation, I put my hand over my mouth and walked out. I can look inside somebody’s brain, but when they start wrenching knees around . . .”

No matter. There’s always neurosurgery, or cardiology, or something.

Not something to fall back on. Choices.

Brian Larsen is good at those.

There was the one he made four years ago, during his senior year at Ferris High School, to go to college and play football at Dartmouth - rather than to play football and go to college at, say, the University of Washington.

More recently, there was the one he made over Christmas break to just say no to football, once and for all.

No.

No before the meat market even opened. Before the indistinguishable all-star games. Before the NFL combine and the scouts poking and prodding and timing. Before the draft and the free-agent flea market. Before the marginal man’s dual consolations, Arenaball and the World League.

At 6-foot-6, 290 pounds, Brian Larsen could have been a candidate for any of those.

Twice an All-Ivy League offensive tackle at Dartmouth, he was a third-team NCAA Division I-AA All-American last fall, when the Big Green became the first Ivy team other than Penn to complete an undefeated, untied season in 26 years.

Ivy champions in basketball and fencing and the long jump and the men’s downhill can go on and compete for NCAA titles. But not in football. So at 10-0 and ranked 17th in the country, the Big Green’s season was over.

“You’d like to go on and test yourself, but on the other hand the season finished on a spectacular note,” said Larsen. “Let’s be honest - we weren’t going to show up and play Marshall or Montana and beat them, but I thought we could have won a couple of games.”

But if his teammates didn’t have that option, Larsen did. He was invited to play in the East-West Shrine Game with the best college seniors in the land.

He passed.

And that was it. In football, they rarely ask twice. No scout or personnel director has called since.

“That was kind of the moment in my life where I had to make a decision - do I want to pursue football or pursue other interests?” he recalled. “I thanked them, but I turned down the invitation because I would have missed a week of school.

“There’s absolutely no doubt it was the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make. The idea of playing pro football is pretty exciting. They make big money. Even to be able to say you gave it a shot, that’s a pretty special thing. But at the same time, what it boiled down to is that I looked into my future and I thought of myself as being a doctor or something of a professional nature and I thought of myself as being a football player. I tried to imagine which one would make me happy.

“And to be honest, playing professional football had never been a dream of mine. Not even in high school.”

In high school, Larsen was a premier lineman in the Greater Spokane League until he “destroyed” his left knee in Ferris’ first game against Mead. Despite the injury, Washington still came through with a scholarship offer - but by that time, Larsen had decided football “was an awfully fickle business.

“I wanted to go someplace I could be a student-athlete, and I don’t want that to sound like a knock on Washington. But there’s a difference between the way the two schools approach the combination of athletics and academics. And that’s what brought me to Dartmouth.”

The perks he missed out on - the TV exposure, the roar of 70,000 fans, getting his education paid for (there are no athletic scholarships in the Ivy) - never kept Larsen awake nights, though surely they had to cross into his consciousness sometime during the 9-hour bus rides from Hanover, N.H., to play at Penn or Princeton.

But no regrets.

“Coming to Dartmouth,” he said, “was the best decision of my life.”

His abrupt farewell to football will be remembered as something less momentous.

“I talked to some friends about (the Shrine Game),” Larsen said, “and the responses were about what you’d expect: ‘Wow … incredible opportunity … jump at it … get me NFL tickets next year.’

“If I was Orlando Pace, it’d be a different story. He’s a gigantic human being. I finished the season at 265 pounds - I lost 25 pounds during the year. I’m not a small guy, but I don’t have that natural mass. I’d have to eat five or six meals a day to get to 305 pounds and that’s like a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week kind of job.”

A 3.20 student, he’ll settle for the 40-hour-a-week kind when he graduates in June with a degree in history, including pre-med requirements. He’s worked at Deaconess during summers and off-terms and will begin studying for his med-school admissions exam, but wants to spent at least a year in the workforce because “once you’re in med school, you’re pretty much on a career track.”

And he will miss football, though not neurotically so.

“I see younger guys on the team in lifting,” he said, “and there are things I already miss: being around the guys, the camaraderie - and in a strange way, the sense of purpose.

“When everything else in life is going wrong, when you just flunked a test or your girlfriend broke up with you, you can still go to the weightroom and say, ‘I’m going to make myself a better football player today.’ At this point, I don’t have that redirection anymore.”

Nope. All he has are choices.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review

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