Patrick Larimore is not really sure if he was born this way or made this way, frothy at the mouth, frosty everywhere else, ready to deliver all the pain he suffered last year on anyone not wearing a blue and gold jersey.
The UCLA middle linebacker was on his way to a fine sophomore season, all-conference potential written all over his snarling face, before he dislocated his shoulder against Oregon in a 60-13 loss in Week 7. Talk about adding insult to injury.
Now Larimore feels slighted, ignored, embarrassed about how his season ended.
“It was really hard for me to watch my teammates, my brohters, out there fighting without me,” Larimore said. “I wasn’t able to help them. Losing a starting Mike is hard for any defense – youre making all thee kinds of calls, checks – that has a huge impact how the defense moves, gels, feels, the intensity that can be brought.”
No one knows that more than Clark Lea, UCLA’s linebacker coach, who had to turn to junior Steve Sloan and ultimately true freshman Jordan Zumwalt after Larimore was lost for the year. Sloan lacked Larimore’s athleticism and instincts, Zumwalt lacked Larimore’s experience and know-how; Lea recalled late-night cram sessions with Zumwalt just trying to get him to know where to line up, much less call the defense and make checks at the line with authority.
With Larimore back and healthy, that burden is back on his massive shoulders, and now, he’s starting to embrace it.
“I’m not that outspoken of a person in general, but I’ve had to grow into it, and I’m still growing into being even more of a vocal presence on the field,” Larimore said. “I think middle linebackers are made in terms of physicality, the grinding, being tough. But you have to grow into that.”
That’s what impresses Rick Neuheisel the most about Larimore.
Neuheisel takes the diplomatic approach between the nature-versus-nurture debate, understanding that while most middle linebackers appear to walk, talk and bark the same, that wasn’t by design, but by work.
“Certainly they are born into the size, but to learn the game and understand the game like a quarterback, it takes some maturation, some development,” Neuheisel said. “They are born because you’ve got the right personality, the right body type. But they’re made because of the study.”
Lea, though, has come to appreciate the innate personality traits that come out of the middle linebacker, something he sees in Larimore.
“You think of the best MLBs in the game, and you see guys in similar molds, cut from the same cloth,” Lea said. “You see their passion, the way they play, the way they interact with teammates – all those things come together for them. It’s a heartbeat. That position, calling fronts, making tight calls, making all those checks – that makes you the heartbeat of the defense.”
Well, UCLA has its heartbeat back.
And it’s getting louder and louder.