The Tifton Gazette
Folks throughout South Georgia know it is hard to see Larry Dean without a smile on his face.
Dean is getting to live out his dream of playing in the National Football League. But the 2012 football season is giving him more reasons to smile.
A former Tift County Blue Devil and Valdosta State Blazer football player, Dean’s Minnesota Vikings are one of the NFL’s surprise teams with a 5-3 record at this point in the season. On top of that, Dean is one of 16 players in the National Football Conference that is on the Pro Bowl ballot as a special teams player.
“It is definitely a big honor to be even brought up in the conversation (about the Pro Bowl),” said Dean. “It’s an honor to know the coaches and other players think that much about my ability.”
Dean leads the Vikings’ special teams in tackles with seven on the year. He also has been on the field for several big plays, including a 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Percy Harvin and a 77-yard punt return by Marcus Sherels that also went for a touchdown. Those two plays happened Sept. 30 in a game against Detroit. It was only the third time in the history of the Minnesota Vikings that the team had two such returns for touchdowns in the same game.
According to Dean, every player has contributed to the Vikings’ 2012 success.
“Since day one of training camp, we have been working hard. We have a family, and we have been showing that by playing for each other,” said Dean, who finished his VSU career as the school’s all-time leader in tackles with 368, passing Atlanta Falcon great Jessie Tuggle for the honor.
“Last year was a down year for us, but we all knew if we came in, played hard, things would get better. We were only a play or two away in several games last season, and this year, we are getting some of those plays to go our way.”
Dean’s play has also been helped this year by the fact he got to take advantage of not only having played last season, but also having a full off-season with the team.
His 2011 rookie season saw Dean have to miss several off-season workouts due to the lockout before the season. In fact, Dean went straight from a special graduation ceremony just for him at Valdosta State to going to the Vikings preseason camp within hours.
“I am more familiar with my surroundings this year,” said Dean. “I am playing with a lot more confidence, because I know more about what I am expected to do.”
That new familiarity has helped become one of the best special teams players in the league.
He has earned the respect of his coaches, who were the ones that put his name in consideration for the Pro Bowl. That carries weight in his possible selection as coaches count for one-third of the Pro Bowl vote, along with fans and other players in the league.
Counting as a third of that vote, fans can play a big part in his selection. To vote for Dean, fans can simply go to http://www.nfl.com/probowl/ballot?module=HP11_content_stream_voting_probowl or http://www.vikings.com/team/pro-bowl-ballot.html. You can also vote as often as you choose.
“I am living out my dream, but I wake up every morning dream-chasing,” said Dean. “It’s a honor for me that so many people in Tifton and Valdosta are pulling for me to do well. I do my best to represent Tift County and Valdosta State to the best of my ability. It’s a blessing every day for me to say I am from South Georgia.”