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Larson makes transition from basketball starter to football team
Posted By Nate Alcorn On October 14, 2010 @ 2:47 pm In Sports | No Comments
It’s a scene not uncommon to NAU athletics: Nick Larson breaking past a defender to score for the Lumberjacks. Larson jumps in the air, catches the ball from a teammate and puts NAU on the scoreboard. But what’s different about this play than several just like it over the past year is that Larson, a senior and former NAU men’s basketball player, is on the gridiron.
Larson, a senior forward with the NAU men’s basketball team, decided to trade in his basketball shoes for cleats and use his final year of NCAA eligibility to walk on to the NAU football team.
Larson played football in high school in Ventura, Calif., and after watching his older brother play tight end at Ohio State, he decided to see how his basketball skills translated into the position of tight end. Larson said that, despite his height of 6 feet 8 inches and already-athletic build, he has had to put on weight to play the position.
“It’s been fun and been a good transition,” Larson said. “I have had to put on a lot of weight, and it’s been a lot of fun.”
Averaging 7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 27.8 minutes per game in his senior year, Larson drew a wide range of reactions from his former teammates on the basketball team after deciding to leave the court for the turf.
“I wasn’t really shocked [when Nick told me],” said senior guard Cameron Jones, a three-year teammate of Larson. “He’s been talking about it for years, and I’m happy for him. He’s a good dude, and whatever he does, he works hard. I’m glad it’s working out for him. He’s a pretty physical athlete. He looks like a football player out there. He has good leadership; he made all the physical plays for our team. That translates to the football field.”
Head basketball coach Mike Adras said Larson’s choice to play football surprised him, yet he praises Larson’s decision.
“I was initially surprised to hear he wanted to do football, but I’m glad he did,” Adras said. “He was going to be here anyway to finish up his degree, so why not try something and see what you like? I wouldn’t have guessed [he would switch sports] a year ago, but I’m happy for him now. It shows you what a person can do when you put your mind to it.”
For his new teammates, such as senior quarterback Michael Herrick, there is buzz and excitement regarding the addition of a seasoned NAU athlete.
“When I came out [to NAU], I introduced myself,” Herrick said. “I saw [Nick] play basketball here, and I got to know him really well, and now we’re roommates, and I think it’s helped with the chemistry on the field. We’ve had a lot of fun; it’s been great.”
Herrick also said he has seen what an asset Larson has been to the football team.
“He’s a great player and great athlete,” Herrick said. “He’s 6’8” — you don’t find many guys that can catch balls at 6’8”. He’s helping the team out a lot, not only as a pass catcher, but as a blocker, too.”
As for his new coach, head football coach Jerome Souers, Larson was quick to make an impression, showing the football coaching staff what he could bring to an already talented squad.
“Nick has a great competitive spirit; he fits in great with our team,” Souers said. “He has gotten better every week, and he competes at our level.”
Larson played in his first game Sept. 25 at Idaho State. After a touchdown catch by Larson was called back on a penalty, he was quick to snag a 3-yard pass from Herrick in the end zone to secure his first catch on the team, and his first touchdown — a goal Larson had from the beginning of the year.
“It was awesome,” Larson said about the touchdown catch. “I thought I scored the first time. I was all excited, so the second time I made sure I scored … It was an exciting feeling. I can compare it with basketball to getting a dunk in a game.”
Larson said he was quick to receive congratulations from family and friends alike.
“I think my mom in Alaska saw it on the Internet,” Larson said. “I think all my family saw it on the Internet or heard on the radio. It was just fun; I got back, and I had a whole bunch of texts congratulating me.”
Jones said he was excited for his former teammate.
“I saw him later when he got back, and he was really pumped; he thought he was big man on campus,” Jones said, laughing. “I congratulated him. He showed me the touchdown picture a couple days later. He was a little cocky about it, but I’m proud of him.”
NAU would go on to defeat the Bengals 31-7.
Since battling his way up the depth chart to become the second-string tight end, Larson was named starter in place of injured junior Brian Riley for the Oct. 2 game against Southern Utah, in which Larson grabbed one pass for 17 yards in NAU’s 26-23 win.
Larson said his goal as a starter in the game against Southern Utah was “don’t let the team down.” He said he thinks the team has expectations for him as a relative newcomer. “They’re looking for me to step up. It really hurts to have Brian out; I have big shoes to fill.”
On Oct. 9, Larson had a career day when he had five receptions for a total of 43 yards and his second touchdown of the season in a 21-14 loss at Eastern Washington.
But as the football season continues, Larson, who played in 116 games for the basketball team (and started in 45), said he still misses his old sport.
“I miss being on the court,” Larson said. That’s my passion: basketball. I just love to compete.”
As the season continues, Adras said he expects nothing less than a competitive spirit from his former forward.
“Nick’s a mature person,” Adras said. “This is a 22-year-old we’re talking about that has an understanding of what it’s like to go out [and compete]. What he has learned in basketball has allowed him to translate on to the football field. I have truly expected him to have success because of the person he has become. It has been great to see that growth.”
Larson and his Lumberjack teammates continue their season this weekend at home against Montana State, with big plans for the remainder of the season.
“I just hope we can get a Big Sky Championship ring and that Nick can be a part of that,” Herrick said.
Larson said he shares the same optimism and goals.
“We have a great team,” he said. “I’m excited to go out there and show everyone what I have.”
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