The Forgotten One
Senior Larry Caper heads into the 2012 season looking to rekindle past success
Then-junior running back Larry Caper maintains possession of the ball as Central Michigan linebacker Mike Kinville, left, and defensive back Jarret Chapman, right, attempt to tackle him during a 2011 game.
That was the play that permanently etched senior running back Larry Caper’s name into MSU football lore. The 23-yard scamper along the right sideline in overtime to beat the University of Michigan in 2009 was not only one of the most memorable plays of the Mark Dantonio era, but of the entire rivalry.
The play was Caper’s signature moment from a season in which he saw himself immediately inserted into the backfield as the biggest cog of the Spartans’ ground attack.
“I mean, personally, for me, that is one of my defining moments,” he said. “But as a team, winning that bowl game last year was one of the defining moments for me overall. One of the memories that I’ll always have for a lifetime.”
After sealing the victory against U-M, it appeared as though Caper was on the fast track to stardom as the replacement of former standout running back Javon Ringer. He led the team in rushing with 468 yards and six touchdowns en route to being named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team.
From a different cloth
Holt High School head football coach Al Slammer knows Caper as well as anyone from his days as the head man at Caper’s alma mater, Battle Creek Central High School, when Caper was on the sideline as the Bearcats’ ball boy.
Caper was gifted enough to play at the varsity level as a freshman, where Slammer was his coach through his junior season.
Even though he’s accomplished great things as a player, including holding his school’s records for all-time and single-game rushing yardage, Slammer said Caper is an even better person off the field.
“He is one of those very special characters who is just a privilege to have as a part of the team (and) to be around,” Slammer said. “He’s intelligent. He’s well-spoken. He’s thoughtful. He has a deep spiritual value that’s a very important part of his life.”
Since then, Caper has moved on to East Lansing, and Slammer has moved on to Holt, where he said he still pays close attention to his former running back’s career.
“He was a part of one of the really great plays that people will always remember: that freshman year run against the University of Michigan to win that game; it’s just a great play,” Slammer said.
One week before the start of his sophomore season, Caper suffered a stress fracture in his hand that sidelined him for more than four weeks. He went from expecting to shoulder the rushing load once again to, by the time he was back, fighting just to get on the field.
“I mean, he was ahead at that time, and little injuries happen,” running backs coach Brad Salem said. “So certain things happen, and guys get shuffled; it could have changed (his career), but we can’t go back and change the past.”
After a freshman season filled with so much promise, one injury was enough to derail his path to glory as former running back Edwin Baker took the majority of the carries in Caper’s absence, thus solidifying his role as the offense’s featured running back. Caper, who recorded only 144 yards as a sophomore, entered the program at the same time with Baker as two of the most high-profile recruits in Michigan.
In 2011, Caper again found himself used sparingly — mostly on passing plays as a blocker or on third downs. He was lost in the shuffle of a deep backfield including Baker and junior Le’Veon Bell.
Caper insists his relationship with his fellow running mates never went sour throughout the last two seasons, adding that he’s taken Bell under his wing and views him as a little brother.
“Early on, it was definitely hard because, I mean, you’re coming in expecting greatness,” Caper said. “But at the same time, you have to have perspective, so I think if you have the team in mind and put your carries aside.”
Despite his drop in production on the field, Caper is focused on helping younger players and making the most out of his senior season. He said he has no personal goals related to yards or touchdowns, just that if he runs hard and holds onto the ball, “everything else will fall right into place.”
“What’s set in stone is set in stone,” he said. “I’ve grown more as a man in the past two years than the last 16 … Things happen in life, and you just have to grow, and I’ve grown a lot.”
Dantonio said the senior heads into training camp “right there” behind Bell, the starter.
“I know that my mentality going into every practice is that I’m the starter,” Caper said.
Perhaps just as valuable as he is in the backfield, he is in the locker room for the Spartans. Salem said Caper has been a leader since his freshman year and called him a reflection of the chemistry the Spartans have on their team.
“I mean, he has completely bought into team,” Salem said. “He’s what you want your program to reflect.”
Slammer said while football is a big part of Caper’s life, the game doesn’t define him completely as a person. His maturity and mental toughness have molded him to withstand the ups and downs he’s faced over his career, he said.
“Larry Caper’s going to be a very successful guy whether he’s on an NFL roster next year, or whether he’s working in the banking industry … or whatever that may be,” Slammer said. “I’d coach for 100 years if I had guys like that all the time.”