Larry Caper, Jr. must have been nervous when he was given the call on 3rd and 9 in overtime last October against Michigan.
The true freshman already scored one touchdown, and all he needed to do was give the Spartansâ€™ All-American kickerBrett Swenson field position for the game-winning field goal.
It was an attainable goal, but maybe Caper didnâ€™t get the memo.
Quarterback Keith Nichol barked out the play, put the ball into his green freshmanâ€™s hands, and the story of Caper â€œThe Touchdown Makerâ€ was ready to unfold.
Caper dodged the left side of Michiganâ€™s defense, slipped through two defendersâ€™ grips and scampered 23 yards to the endzone to give Michigan State a 26-20 victory over Michigan, which was the Spartans' first consecutive win over the Wolverines since 1965-67.
And Caper became an instant campus legend because of it.
â€œI donâ€™t know if I was floating in the air, but it was so, so wonderful,â€ Larryâ€™s father, Larry Sr., recently told Spartan Nation Radio in regards to the play. â€œIt was a great feeling, and to be in the Spartan family is a great thing. Itâ€™s beautiful. Itâ€™s probably one of the highlights of my life to see my son in that type of atmosphere.â€
It's not just the game-winning play against Michigan that has Larry, Sr. beaming with pride â€” itâ€™s seeing his son compete at a high level.
â€œTo sit there with all the fans â€” the electricity, the excitement and the joy of itâ€¦ Iâ€™m a very emotional person, and it excites me and it thrills me."
Larry, Jr. didnâ€™t get where heâ€™s at by chance. He had supportive parents that were with him at every juncture of his career, except throughout the recruiting process.
The Capers let their son manage the critical matter on his own.
â€œIâ€™m actually very blessed to have those people as parents,â€ said Larry, Jr. â€œThey laid the foundation for me, they let me pretty much go â€” they just let me loose. Most parents during the recruiting process will actually push their child in a certain direction. They didnâ€™t do that with me.â€
After sifting through offers from Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Michigan and several other programs, the Battle Creek Central standout chose to play his college ball in East Lansing.
â€œYou wait for them to decide what they want to do,â€ Larry, Sr. said. â€œAs a parent, what you do â€” you support them.â€
For some child-athletes, living up to their parentsâ€™ expectations takes the joy from the purpose of sports â€” competition and teamwork.
Since the days of Rocket Junior Football, Larry, Sr. made sure he kept the game fun for his son and wasnâ€™t an overzealous sports dad.
â€œ(I remember) seeing parents go off and yell at the coaches â€” and itâ€™s all about their kid, and their kid only,â€ said Larry, Sr. â€œI told myself â€˜You know what, Iâ€™m never going to act like this.â€™
First of all Iâ€™m a reflection of my son, and when you do that, it kind of embarrasses the kid. I said â€˜You know what, Iâ€™m going to let the coaches coach â€” Iâ€™m going to be a parent, and Iâ€™m going to support my son and the team heâ€™s playing on.' I was a fan and a supporter.â€
And itâ€™s no surprise that Larry, Jr. has the same sensible approach to the game as his father. He doesnâ€™t showboat or spike the ball. He hasnâ€™t called out rival teams, or went on-record with comments that would shame his university.
And like any proud father, it brings joy to Larry, Sr. to see his son have such respect for the Michigan State program and the young men he plays alongside.
Those are lessons he taught Larry, Jr. as a youth.
â€œItâ€™s really touching,â€ Larry, Sr. said. â€œAs a parent, I take it very emotionallyâ€¦ He got it, he heard me say it.â€
With another year under his belt, Larry, Jr. has a grasp of his role as a Spartan. He understands the playbook and is ready to make use of his experience.
â€œI actually know the whole offense,â€ said Larry, Jr who scored six touchdowns and rushed for 468 yards on 120 attempts in 2009. â€œThey call a formation, and I can actually lay out all the pieces and put people where theyâ€™re supposed to be â€” draw up their routes and things like that. Just knowing the game makes you a better player.â€
Larry, Jr. didnâ€™t credit himself exclusively for dues paid during camp, he applauded others for their rapid progression over the last year as well.
â€œI mean â€” Iâ€™m glad the defense improved,â€ said Larry, Jr. â€œThat makes the offense better, too. We have one of the best defensive lines â€”that I can say â€” in the Big Ten, and one of the best linebacking corps, too.
We just have a great team.â€