Dec. 9, 2012
By Jeremy Hawkes, SDA Media Relations
There is one thing an outside observer would never doubt when looking at the Arizona State University football coach staff from top to bottom and that’s the fact that every member of the staff has an extreme passion for helping young men succeed and being great role models in their lives.
There are no shortages of coaches across the nation where it takes just one look at them and their mannerisms to know that that person was meant to be a coach. And perhaps no member of the Sun Devil coaching staff personifies that more that running backs coach Larry Porter. The 40-year-old who originally hails from Jackson, Miss., views coaching football almost as a duty to pay back the sport and the people that have been such a big part of his life.
Porter has had quite a bit of success as a coach. Following a four-year career that saw him finish with 2,194 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns at the University of Memphis from 1990-1993, he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in education in 1996 and immediately went into coaching.
“I wanted to make an impact. I wanted to be a game-changer. I wanted to be a difference-maker,” Porter said of his decision to get into coaching. “I’m not just saying that or giving you rhetoric. What you are looking at when you look at Larry Porter is a product of coaching.”
Porter says that he has had a coach that has impacted his life at all levels, be it from Little League to competing as a running back at Memphis. And in that group of coaches were the “game-changers” and “difference-makers” that Porter refers and he credits them for giving him a chance to develop into the man he is today.
Porter got his coaching start at Wooddale High in Memphis before advancing to the collegiate ranks coaching running backs at Tennessee-Martin in 1998. From there, Porter would go on to coach three years at Arkansas State, where he helped guide Jonathan Adams to back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
That set up the way for Porter to link up with Les Miles at Oklahoma State where he really saw his success go on the rise.
At Oklahoma State, Porter's stable of running backs continued the tradition of "Tailback U," as he coached 1,000-yard rushers for three-straight seasons. In 2004, Vernand Morency earned second team All-Big 12 honors after rushing for 1,474 yards, which ranked eighth in the nation, and 12 touchdowns. Morency was a third round pick of the Houston Texans in 2005.
A year earlier, Tatum Bell earned first team All-Big 12 honors with 1,286 yards and 16 touchdowns. Bell and Morency combined for 2,204 yards and 24 touchdowns for the Cowboys in 2003. Bell then went on to become a second-round draft pick by the Denver Broncos in the 2004 NFL Draft.
Porter would then accompany Miles to LSU, where he won a national championship with the Tigers in 2007. As LSU's running backs coach, Porter helped develop some of the finest players at that position in LSU's history. From 2005-09, LSU produced a 1,000-yard rusher twice in Jacob Hester and Charles Scott as well as having five players (Hester, Joseph Addai, Quinn Johnson, Charles Scott, Trindon Holliday) selected in the NFL Draft. In three of his five seasons at LSU, the Tiger rushing unit averaged over 165 yards a game, including a high of 214 yards per game in 2007. That squad closed out the season ranked 11th nationally in rushing.
It was at LSU that Porter began to garner a lot of notice as an exceptional recruiter, being named by Rivals.com as the National Recruiter of the Year in 2007 and 2009.
“He’s a tremendous relationship guy and one of the best recruiters I have been around,” head coach Todd Graham said.
And the ability to be such a strong recruiter simply comes for being a good person, in Porter’s mind.
“You’ve got to earn the trust of people and you’ve got to go about the way you do your job in a very honest way,” he said. “Hard work, trust and honesty will carry you a long way in recruiting.”
Following his time at LSU, Porter would become the head coach at his alma mater before landing himself in Tempe. And even with all that success, his insights on coaching remain the same.
“The game has given me a lot and this is a way to give back,” Porter mused. “I am truly in it for the kids and trying to give back to society what was given to me.”
And in being in it for the kids, Porter is the first to tell you that it’s not winning football games that is most important to him – it’s winning in the classroom.
“The most rewarding thing is to see them walk across that stage and get that degree,” Porter said. “I know. I’ve lived that and I know what a degree can do for your life.”
The thing that Porter finds difficult in that task is that so many young men live in the “now mode” and don’t think about how a degree grants them sustainability down the road of life. The biggest challenge as a collegiate coach - in Porter’s eyes – is not drawing up the X’s and O’s to win on Saturday but getting those young men to “submit to education.”
“You have so many kids who think their only way to success in life is the NFL and they are so completely wrong,” Porter said. “The guys that I deal with, I try to capture them with the understanding of what a degree has done for my life.”
As such, Porter notes that you have to be completely immersed in the lives of the student-athletes and know what they are about and where they came from in order to help them succeed academically. That emphasis was seen during his head coaching stint at Memphis where he set out with a no-nonsense approach to academics and the Tiger football program registered its highest team GPA since 2006 in spring 2010. For the fall 2010 semester, Tiger football landed 21 student-athletes in the 3.0 Club.
That no-nonsense approach comes from Porter upbringing in which he credits his grandfather for molding him into the man he would become. At just 12 years old, Porter’s grandfather owned a brick construction company that he would make Porter work at.
“It was something I hated dearly,” Porter said. “He would treat me just like he treated the adults. He made me work and I never understood it.”
But Porter says the cornerstone of his success is hard work and in hindsight, it all comes together.
“I look back at what my grandfather did for me and those were some miserable days for me,” he said. “But it made me a true man. It taught be the value of hard work.”
And while Porter feels his grandfather helped him to become to person he has become, he doesn’t necessarily credit one person in his professional career for helping him along his way but rather – choosing to appreciate everyone as a whole who has been involved in his coaching career.
“I have a lot of people I can thank simply because they have given me a job or given me a great opportunity,” he said. “I’ve been very close and very loyal to those that have and in turn, they have put me in many positions to be successful.”
And for all that has helped him get where he is now, that is why Coach Porter gets up everyday to give back to the game and to the society that has made him into the human being that he is.