By DEREK GONZALES
July, 2013. The Fairfield High School football team is preparing for its upcoming season, deep in the heart of Texas, its home state. With Fairfield being a modest one hour drive down Highway-84 West to Waco, Texas, high school football is everything to the small town of 3,000, like most Texas communities. The Eagles are eager to come back after an 8-4 season that saw the team lose a five-point fourth quarter lead en route to a 42-39 loss to Lorena High School in the Texas State 3-A playoffs.
Fairfield thinks they could be better than the year before, in part because they have a running back named Larry Rose III returning.
As a junior, Rose carried the ball 116 times for 857 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. He was also selected a 1st-team all-district running back in the process, while starting at cornerback for the team as well.
Fairfield has been going through summer workouts under the guidance of former Baylor football player Jason Smith, who also spent time in the NFL. The summer workouts with Smith have the Eagles thinking big.
“My senior year, we [the senior class] made up our minds to do something special,” says Rose. “Each team from my freshman year on got better and better. Going into high school, Fairfield High wasn’t good at all, but we built the program. He [Smith] came in that summer, and he was given the reigns by our head coach. He was in charge of our summer workouts, and it was ridiculous. The stuff that we were doing was so crazy that it gave us the confidence to do something special.”
As for individual goals, Rose was just after one thing. “I just wanted to do the best I could do. I’ve never been a guy to worry about numbers, so I knew what I was capable of doing. It was just about finally getting that opportunity to be the head honcho [after splitting carries with a senior his junior campaign]. I was going to do all I could do to get a scholarship offer.”
Halfway through his senior season in high school, Rose has already amassed 1,200 yards rushing and has over 20 touchdowns. With Baylor University and Texas Tech being two of the nearest division-one programs to Fairfield, Rose has the dream of becoming either a Bear or Red Raider. Neither school formally offered Rose a chance to play.
“I was set on Texas Tech. That’s where I wanted to go. [Former head coach] Tommy Tuberville told me he wanted me at a [skills] camp, and then one day I’m watching ESPN and it comes out that he left to Cincinnati. I didn’t hear from Tech again,” said Rose.
The position coach who found Rose has moved to Arizona State, and is trying to bring Rose, who is listed at just 5’’11 and 160 pounds, with him.
“The coach told me he’d take my name wherever he went, so when he landed at Arizona State, they recruited me for awhile. I went to a camp there, and ran one of my fastest [40-yard dash] times. They told me that they liked me, and said it was between me and a running back from California. The coaches said we were practically the same, but that he was just a little bit bigger. When they said that, I pretty much knew they were going to go with him.”
The season, and Rose’s high school career, ends with a tough 38-33 loss to Argyle in the Texas 3-A playoffs inside Arlington’s AT&T Stadium. Rose’s final stats included 2,924 yards rushing, good for a 182.8 yard-per-game average with 49 touchdowns. Still, he hasn’t committed to play college football.
“I had a lot of big schools looking at me, but because of my size, none of them ever pulled the trigger [on a scholarship offer]. I was putting up all these numbers, but nobody was offering me. It was frustrating, and it got to the point that I had to ask myself if I really even wanted to play college football.”
At this point, Rose has two division-one offers. One from Texas State, which is a three-hour drive from Fairfield, and one from New Mexico State, which is 10 and a half hours west in Las Cruces. It was Aggie coach R. Todd Littlejohn along with head coach Doug Martin that found Rose and offered him a scholarship. “I got the call from New Mexico State. I remember that I told my mom that they offered me, and I said ‘no, I don’t want to go, I don’t even want to take the visit.’ My mom said, ‘you can’t be like that. You have to at least hear them out. They took time out to call you to try and get you out there, so you need to at least hear what they’re about.’ And that’s what I did,” Rose said.
This seems like a relatively easy decision, with San Marcos not only being closer, but with Texas State traditionally having a better football program than New Mexico State. There is really only one catch: Texas State offered Rose for a cornerback position; New Mexico State offered him as a running back.
“I took the trip out to Las Cruces and saw the campus and stuff, and immediately knew that it was the place I needed to be. I still wasn’t 100% sure, so I went home. I was talking with my dad, and he told me, ‘do you feel like you’re one of the best [running backs] in the country?’ I said yeah. He then told me ‘you have to take your talents to the best place where that can be shown. You have to look. You have Texas State and New Mexico State. Which one puts you at a better platform to prove to everybody that you are one of the best in the country?’ When he said that, it kind of solidified that I needed to take my talents to New Mexico State. I was good at cornerback. I would just much rather run a guy over and run away from people than hit them. I just wanted one chance, one fair chance to show what I was capable of, and New Mexico State gave me that chance.”
August, 2014. The New Mexico State Aggies are playing their 2014 season opener against Cal Poly at Aggie Memorial Stadium. Starting for the Aggies at running back is a little-known 5’11, now 170-pound freshman, number 12, Larry Rose III.
Rose dazzles all 13,772 fans in attendance en route to a 30-carry, 197-yard night while the Aggies win their season opener for the first time since 2007.
The following week, the team travels to Atlanta to face Georgia State in the first conference game of the year. Rose proves that he is in fact a Division I-FBS talent at running back with another stellar performance, carrying the ball another 18 times for 90 yards. The Aggies win and start the season 2-0 for the first time since 1999. This will be the theme of the season, as Rose goes on to start eight of the ten games he plays in, rushing for 1,102 yards, being the first Aggie player to rush for over 1,000 yards since 2011.
December, 2015. Rose’s sophomore season is over, and he is out shopping with his mom when he gets a call.
“Hey Larry, I don’t know if you know or not, but you’re a third-team All-American,” says coach Martin.
Rose appreciates the call from his coach, hangs up the phone and nonchalantly and tells his mom, “Hey mom, I made the All-American team.”
Her response? “Oh, what is that?”
The same player who is just two years removed from getting just one FBS offer because of his size is now on the All-American third-team, behind running backs such as Alabama’s Derrick Henry and LSU’s Leonard Fournette.
“It’s crazy to go from, ‘man, I wonder what it is like to be a Leonard Fournette or Derrick Henry’ to actually being in that conversation with them. It’s crazy.”
His sophomore season was the best season any running back has ever had at New Mexico State. Rose ran for a school-record 1,651 rushing yards, which also led the Sun Belt Conference. The 14 touchdowns and his 6.9 per-carry average earned him the Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
One of the ironic parts of the season was Rose’s game at Texas State. Against head coach Dennis Franchione and the Bobcats, Rose carried the ball a season-high 31 times for 207 yards and two touchdowns. He also turned a swing pass into a 77-yard touchdown mid-way through the fourth quarter that essentially clinched the 31-21 victory, the second straight win for the Aggies. Not bad for a “cornerback” right? Franchione resigned after the season.
“I have a different chip on my shoulder for every game, but for Texas State, for one, I’m from Texas. I shouldn’t have to go all the way to New Mexico to play running back. Secondly, I put up big numbers in high school at running back, so they just didn’t want me at running back, so I always want Texas State to be one of my better games of the season.”
September, 2016. It’s time. After two years of growing pains and tough losses, it is time for the New Mexico State football team to turn it around. Rose is now a junior, and most of the 2014 recruiting class he was apart of will see the field for head coach Doug Martin.
The Aggies will attempt to end the nation’s longest bowl drought at 56 years, and it is a goal that has been on Rose’s mind since he walked onto the Las Cruces campus.
“That’s what I came here for. A winning season is making it to a bowl game. It would be a huge accomplishment just knowing that you finished what you came here for.”
For a program that hasn’t participated in a bowl game since 1960, Aggie fans should feel comfortable putting their hopes in Rose. The schedule shapes up nicely enough to have experts predicting a five to six-win season (six wins would qualify them for a bowl game).
Next up: December, 2016. Football bowl season will be at its height, the only question is, will Rose and the Aggies keep defying the odds.
Another 1,500-yard season with around 12 touchdowns from Rose and NMSU will be in a fine position to make a jump in the Sun Belt Conference standings.
Regardless, the Aggies will play five games in Las Cruces, and fans should take advantage of this. It’s not everyday that an All-American person and player walks down that Aggie Memorial Stadium tunnel donning the crimson and white.