LAS CRUCES — New Mexico State Univerity football coach Doug Martin likes to say he “won the lottery” when Larry Rose III committed to play for the Aggies.
If so, credit Yvonne Rose for buying Martin’s ticket.
Without some loving advice from his mother, Yvonne, NMSU’s exceptionally talented junior running back would not have worn Aggie crimson during his collegiate career. He might not have played at all at the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level.
Rose III certainly posted eye-popping numbers (2,934 rushing yards, 49 touchdowns) as a senior at Texas’ Fairfield High School, but he failed to wow college recruiters because of his slight frame (5-foot-11, 160 pounds at the time). Texas State wanted Rose if he’d agree to play cornerback. For a long time, that was his only FBS offer.
A frustrated Rose was set to play running back at nearby Abilene Christian, which plays at the lower Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level.
“I got to the point where I was like, ‘You know what? Maybe I’m not good enough to play Division I ball,'” Rose said. “‘ … Maybe Abilene Christian is for me.'”
Fast-forward 2½ years and Larry Rose III is quite literally the poster boy for New Mexico State football. Over the summer, his likeness adorned a massive billboard near the intersection of I-25 and University Avenue in Las Cruces promoting season-ticket sales.
The campaign made sense. Rose is worth the price of admission.
Though he missed this season’s first three games while recovering from sports hernia surgery, Rose remains on pace to break NMSU’s career rushing record (4,692) yards, set by Denvis Manns from 1995-98. In two seasons plus two games, Rose has amassed 2,921 rushing yards, averaged 6.3 yards per carry and scored 27 touchdowns.
He needs 79 yards rushing Saturday at Idaho to reach 3,000 yards and move into third place on the Aggies’ career rushing list.
It seems a middling task for the player who forced the college football world to pay attention last season by rushing for 1,651 yards and bettering New Mexico State’s single-season standard by nearly 200 yards. He was named Sun Belt Conference Offensive Student-Athlete of the Year and earned third-team Associated Press All-America honors. His name is on watch lists for some of the nation’s most prestigious individual awards (Doak Walker, Maxwell, Walter Camp, Earl Campbell Tyler Rose and Lombardi) this season.
Rose would have a better chance to win such awards if he played somewhere besides Las Cruces, but he’s not about to complain. Quieting skeptics and helping to put a long-dormant NMSU program on the football map provide him with incentive enough.
“Each week there’s a different chip on my shoulder,” Rose said. “For example, Texas State offered me at corner, so every time we play Texas State it’s like, ‘I could be there but it’s your loss.’
“That’s what I appreciate about playing in the Sun Belt because every team in the conference except maybe Idaho knew who I was, coming out. They didn’t take a chance on me, so that’s what I like about it. It’s good to get revenge, I guess you could say.”
Waiting his turn
Rose has racked up a lot of mileage at running back without putting much wear on his tires. He played only flag football as a youngster, and it was not his favorite sport.
“I remember vividly my dad asking me which sport I liked best,” Rose recalled. “I was about 9 and I said basketball. I was really good at basketball, too.”
When he reached junior high, Rose’s parents decided to take an honest approach.
“We had to tell him he wasn’t a basketball player,” Yvonne said. “His big sister (Barvion) was a basketball player and helped Fairfield High School to its first state berth. I told Larry, ‘You’re a football player. What are you gonna do?'”
After committing to football, Rose had to wait his turn. Fairfield’s backfield was loaded for his first two prep seasons and he played only defense. He was starting to believe cornerback would be his primary position until he got a chance to carry the ball as a junior.
“I was definitely born for offense,” Rose said with a grin. “I’ll go out and cover receivers with the best of them, but when it comes to tackling those backs, that’s not for me.”
Rose left defense far behind as a high school senior, rushing for nearly 3,000 yards on 237 carries (12.3 yards per attempt). The numbers could have been even better but most of Fairfield’s games were blowouts. Rose rarely played much beyond halftime.
“I asked our (offensive coordinator) if I could go in at receiver to work on my hands,” Rose recalled. “He said, ‘Why would we put you at receiver when we can just hand you the ball and get the same result?’
“Let’s just say I didn’t get to play much receiver.”
Fairfield went 15-1 and advanced to its first state championship game before falling. Rose was named Texas’ Associated Press Class 3A Offensive Player of the Year but finished the season with almost no FBS opportunities.
“Pretty much everything you would think a kid needed to accomplish to get a big-time offer, I feel like I did it my senior year,” Rose said. “The numbers, the yards, the grades, I had everything to line up with receiving a big-time offer, but I never got it. It got kind of frustrating to the point where I didn’t even know if I wanted to pursue it anymore.”
Minding his mother
New Mexico State came into the picture late, inviting Rose for a campus visit just weeks before the NCAA’s spring signing day in 2014.
He didn’t want to go.
“I was feeling down about not getting more attention,” Rose said, “but my mom wasn’t having it. She said, ‘No, you can’t do that. New Mexico State’s coaches cared enough to call you and saw something in you. You have to hear them out.'”
When the Roses arrived in Las Cruces, Larry’s outlook changed.
“I instantly got a good vibe,” he said. “I’d never seen mountains — we don’t have them in Texas — so I liked the view.”
The family also got a good vibe from Martin, his staff and NMSU’s players.
“I told his dad (Larry Rose, Jr.), ‘You know he’s going to commit, right?'” Yvonne recalled. “He said, ‘He’d be crazy not to.'”
At the time Martin didn’t know he’d won the lottery, but he felt pretty good about his odds.
“I fell in love with Larry when I saw him in recruiting,” Martin said. “He’s got the vision and ability to make people miss, even right in the hole, that very few running backs have. Plus, he’s a bright young man and you could see he was very hungry to prove himself. I was pretty sure we had something special with him.”
Rose laughed when asked how close he came to canceling his recruiting visit to Las Cruces.
“Well, if it wasn’t for my mom I might be at Abilene Christian right now,” he said. “Mom always knows what’s best.”
Making his mark
Rose blossomed quickly upon arrival at New Mexico State. He routinely made head-turning plays in his first fall camp, frustrating defenders and making offensive linemen smile.
“I’ve seen running backs come and go,” senior offensive lineman Abram Holland said, “but Larry’s special. If something’s messed up, he can turn it into a positive. If we give him a hole, even a tiny one, watch out. A guy like that makes you want to bust your butt even more.”
Putting on pounds proved tougher than picking up yards. Rose earned a starting spot and rushed for more than 1,400 yards as a freshman, but his weight dipped from 180 pounds to 170 by season’s end.
To survive as the Aggies’ primary ball-carrier, Rose knew he needed to bulk up. Dietary changes and exhaustive workouts helped him build to 184 pounds last season. This summer he topped out at 190.
“When it’s all said and done, 200’s the goal,” Rose said. “Better for taking the pounding. But sometimes being a little smaller’s better. They can’t hit what they can’t see.”
Rose doesn’t mind setting numerical goals for his weight, but on-field statistics are another story. He doesn’t dwell on yardage totals, career lists or even the possibility of playing in the NFL someday. Staying in the moment, Rose says, got him this far.
“What God means for you is going to happen,” he said, “and that’s whether I think about it or I don’t. I’m just here to play ball and have fun right now.”
As one might expect, Rose’s fun factor is tied to New Mexico State’s success. He badly wants to lead the Aggies to their first winning season since 2002 and their first bowl berth since 1960.
“I want to do everything I can,” Rose said. “I don’t mind the pressure being on me. At the end of the day I feel like I’m built to handle whatever’s thrown at me. We can make it happen, I know we can.”
NMSU (2-3, 1-1 Sun Belt) does not have much room for error, especially considering one of its remaining seven games is a paycheck affair at No. 6 Texas A&M. Still, Martin likes his odds much better with a healthy Rose in the lineup.
“When you have a horse, you ride him,” Martin said. “Larry’s our horse.”
Provided Rose stays healthy, Martin can envision him challenging NMSU’s career rushing mark and playing at the next level. Martin coached New England Patriots wideout Julian Edelman at Kent State and sees similar traits in Rose.
“He’s got that drive and commitment to keep improving,” Martin said. “Edelman was the same way. I could certainly see Larry playing in the NFL because of how well he does in the passing game. He could be an excellent third-down back at the very least.”
If so, Yvonne Rose may start feeling — and acting — like a lottery winner.
“I always believed he could excel in college,” she said, “and I know he’s gifted enough to do it at the next level. We don’t know what the future holds, but if he makes the NFL and you see a crazy mom running alongside him in the stands, that’ll be me.”