With every buzz from his phone, a rush of terror overcame Ike Larsen.
Buzz. Could that be bad news?
Buzz. Is someone calling about his parents?
Buzz. Could this be the day they die?
Larsen, a Utah State safety and a young Group of Five star, recently told HERO Sports something he hasn’t told hardly anyone. He was on the verge of quitting football before his collegiate career really began, a decision that could’ve prevented him from shining last season.
“I wasn’t thinking anything football,” Larsen said. “To be honest, I didn’t really care about football at that point. I was just thinking about my mom and dad everyday.”
In 2021, a season in which Larsen redshirted, his parents were both put on ventilators as they fought COVID-19. His mother was sedated for a month and a half, and her organs shut down for multiple weeks. His father was also in the hospital for two and a half weeks.
Larsen was torn. Was football the thing he should be worried about?
The sport was a positive distraction. Some of Larsen’s favorite memories are not his interceptions, but his time spent with his teammates during practice.
But it also served as a key reason why he wasn’t visiting his parents in Salt Lake City more often. During team meetings, every time Larsen’s phone went off, he dreaded that this could signal a turn for the worst.
He never received that worst-case-scenario call, though. Both Bret and JoAnn, Larsen’s parents, recovered enough to see every game in 2022, including road trips to Alabama and Hawaii.
And while Larsen thrived in 2022, becoming a HERO Sports G5 Preseason All-American this year, the attendance of his parents at games is more special than ever before.
“He’s been raised really well. He’s got a great family. His folks are amazing,” Utah State head coach Blake Anderson told HERO Sports. “So he’s got a phenomenal support system. But again, I think there’s a confidence about him and he knows who he is, and he’s able to stay calm in the moment. I think that’s a trait that not everybody has.”
Ike Larsen’s Hometown Journey
Larsen grew up in Smithfield, Utah, just a quick drive away from Logan, where the Aggies play. With a laugh, Larsen said he was certainly a USU fan growing up. He witnessed greats like Bobby Wagner compete for the Aggies. He showed his support for his favorite team as a child, and now he feels that same support now as an Aggie himself.
Larsen credits his dad for being the reason he pursued football in the first place.
“My favorite thing is the adrenaline rush,” Larsen said. “That first three seconds before the ball is snapped, everything just kind of goes blank, and that’s my favorite. You can’t find it anywhere else. I love that.”
At the conclusion of games, however he played, Larsen often found his parents for big hugs. But in 2021, that wasn’t possible. He had to drive over an hour to hospitals in Salt Lake City if he wanted to see them.
Larsen seriously considered giving football up. He found himself praying several times a day, but beyond that, he wasn’t sure what he should do.
Some part of him was convinced everything would be alright – eventually. And no matter how it turned out, he felt his parents would want him to remain with the team. So he did.
“That year was really hard on me,” Larsen said. “I had to choose. Shoot, do I go see my parents down in Salt Lake? Could they die tonight if I don’t go see them? What do I do?
“So I spent a lot of time driving back and forth just trying to keep my head straight for them. … That was probably one of the hardest times of my life, for sure.”
Ike Larsen’s Interceptions And Blocked Punts Prove He Has ‘All The Talent In The World’
While starting just four games, Larsen was the only player in the country last year with four interceptions, three blocked kicks, and a defensive touchdown last season.
Larsen was first in the Mountain West and seventh in the country in Pro Football Focus’ grades among defensive backs. He allowed just nine catches for 56 yards on 22 targets, leading to a passer rating of just 9.1 on throws his way.
When asked why he loves playing in the secondary, Larsen called himself a ball hawk. He possesses rare instincts which lead him to being in the right places.
“It just kind of comes naturally to me,” Larsen said. “The stage is never too big.”
Larsen can play in man coverage or in space. Listed at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, he also has the frame to cover a great number of receivers, though his coaches believe he could add a few pounds of muscle.
Anderson realized quickly that, whatever role he’s given on defense or special teams, Larsen has a knack for making pivotal plays.
Larsen subscribes to the mentality of always being prepared for the ball to be thrown his way. If he stays ready, he said, he never has to get ready.
“He’s not afraid of the moment. He’s very, very confident. Not arrogant, but confident,” Anderson said. “The guy’s got all the talent in the world. Could be one of the best players in our league, and honestly, he could hold his own across the country in other leagues.”
Anderson believes Larsen could be in line for one of the best seasons by a G5 defensive back as a sophomore. However, the coach wants the rising star to play more consistently.
Expanding his football knowledge and understanding of USU’s playbook, Larsen said, will certainly help. An improved football IQ, he added, will help him better anticipate how plays will unfold.
Anderson noted Larsen will benefit from some subtle changes made to the defense this offseason. Defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen is entering his first season with the team and has already noticed improvements in Larsen’s game.
“I think Ike is a really good athlete. I think he’s really great,” Cauthen said. “I think his ceiling is really high. I think he’s going to get better each and every week.
“Ike is a very good young man. I like him. Good character. Good work ethic. I think he’s just going to keep getting better each and every season.”
Utah State’s coaches believe Larsen will make those improvements as long as he remains focused. With his parents being healthy enough to attend games, that’s much easier of late.
While his parents experience some long-term effects of COVID, Larsen said, “for the most part now, they’re great.” And that, he added, is “definitely a blessing.”