When Anthony Larry first held his baby son in the spring of 2012, he promised never to let go. Not the way his own father did 20 years earlier.
“I was just so happy to be a father,” said Larry, who plays football at Eastern Washington University. “I didn’t want my son to grow up not knowing who I was, so I spent more and more time with him.”
But as he held his son closer, Larry lost the handle on his studies. By that summer, Larry got the news he more than half expected: he didn’t pass enough classes and had lost his football scholarship.
And he wouldn’t play at all that season.
But even as he delivered the bad news, assistant coach Ryan Sawyer gave a poignant pep talk: That if Larry truly cared about his son, he would care enough to earn a bachelor’s degree
That meant sacrifices of every kind – emotional, personal and financial – but Larry persevered, and he’s on schedule to graduate in June.
“I’ll be there to watch him walk across that stage,” Sawyer said. “And then I’m going to throw a party.”
Opportunity gained … lost
Larry grew up in Sacramento, Calif., with his mother, Misty, stepfather, Vernon, and their blended family. He never knew his biological father, Anthony Sr.
His adolescence was wasted on a street gang until his junior year at Luther Burbank High School, where a helping hand came from his history teacher, who also happened to coach the football team.
“I was gang-banging, for sure, and he always saw me getting into trouble,” Larry said. “He told me, ‘come and play some football, and you can turn things around.’ ”
Larry played both wide receiver and defensive end, and by his senior year attracted attention from several Pac-12 schools. Off the field, Larry knew that he needed academic help, but was too prideful to ask until it was too late.
“I had everybody looking at me, but once they saw my transcript, there was nothing they could do for me.” Larry said.
Arizona State urged him to walk on, but Larry needed a sure thing. Soon he was resigned to playing at a local junior college.
Former Eastern assistant Chris Hansen came on the scene, and soon Larry had another option
“The street life was just crazy, I had to get out of Sacramento, or I’d probably end up in jail,” said Larry, who instead decided to be the first one in his family to attend college.
As a Prop 48 qualifier, Larry didn’t play football in fall of 2009. The 6-foot-3, 250-pounder saw extensive action the next two seasons, and became the Eagles’ top pass-rusher in 2011. He also was making progress toward his degree in outdoor recreation.
Priorities shifted when his girlfriend, Charnay Combs, gave birth to Anthony III; Larry was determined to forge bonds he never had with his own father. But in juggling fatherhood and football, Larry lost the handle on his studies, and didn’t earn enough credits to keep his athletic scholarship.
“I just wasn’t on top of my stuff like I was supposed to, it slipped away from me,” Larry said.
Larry is an athletic defensive end with a fast motor, but his heart and mind were stuck in neutral. “I didn’t know what I was going to do,” said Larry of his first reaction when Sawyer told him the 2012 season was lost for him.
“My mind was going all kinds of places, and I was ready to go home.”
But just as football can knock a man to his knees, it also can pick him up. Sawyer appealed to Larry’s sense of duty to his family “and to make sure that he knows that there are people who care about him,” Sawyer said.
A change of direction began with a walk to Eastern’s financial aid department. Instead of a full ride, Larry had to bear the cost himself.
Said head coach Beau Baldwin, “It would have been really easy for Anthony to take that setback and and go away from school, but he didn’t.”
The 2012 season began without him. “I went to every game, just being a fan instead of an athlete,” Larry said. “I really didn’t even want to go to the games, because it hurt so much.”
Larry was – and still is – a frequent visitor to the student-athlete study hall, and was closely monitored by staff and coaches. “I just had to hit the books a little harder, a little smarter,” Larry said.
Said Eastern academic coordinator Jim Fitzgerald recently, “Anthony was just here the other night, and read 100 pages.”
By the spring of 2013, Larry had regained his eligibility and the company of a football team that he refers to as “my brothers.”
“It wasn’t enough just to be the first in my family to go to college – I have to get my degree so I can be the first to get a degree,” said Larry, who plans to go to work next fall to pay off his student loans and embark on a career.
Along the way, Larry has three sacks and 43 tackles.
“That’s one of those things as a football coach that can’t be measured by the wins and championships,” Baldwin said. “He’s had a great year, but it’s even more impor- tant that he’s working toward graduating.”