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To the average person, professional athletes look like they have it all, but sometimes it’s forgotten that they’re regular people who face setbacks on their career path too.
“Going in, I found success very fast. I was young, I was 21 years old when I made the team, and at the age of 22, I was the starting safety,” says J.R. LaRose.
“I decided to move to the defensive side of the ball [when I was younger] because I wasn’t big enough [for running back],” said LaRose. “I was getting hit all the time, but I loved it. It’s controlled violence. I’m a physical player and I enjoy a lot of contact.”
That attitude led to a lot of attention from schools below the border, which were looking for a tough player to add to their defense. During his senior year of high school though, LaRose’s grades slipped and he had to put in some extra work before heading off to university. That gave him time to improve on the field as well, joining the Edmonton Huskies of the CJFL.
“I was really looking forward to [traveling for school], but playing junior football, I wanted to stay home. I wanted to be close to my family, so I played in Edmonton and that was the best decision I made,” said LaRose. “I won two national championships with the Edmonton Huskies and from there, I got the opportunity to play for my hometown team.”
LaRose spent three great seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos from 2005-2007. During the 2008 campaign, his fourth with the team, things went downhill for the safety.
“As a young kid, I didn’t know how to handle success or how to be a professional athlete,” said LaRose. “With my training and everything else, I was very easily distracted, and the result of that was I ended up losing my starting job. And in 2008, I suffered what most thought was a career-ending injury when I snapped my leg in half.”
He spent the rest of the 2008 season on the injured list, and was later released by the club at the end of the year. After a few surgeries and a year of rehab time, LaRose went for a workout with Edmonton. Unfortunately for LaRose, Edmonton had other plans and he had to find somewhere else to play.
After doing a bit of research, he found that the BC Lions were having tryouts at the beginning of the 2010 season. With some information from then-BC Lion Barron Miles, LaRose flew to Vancouver on his own dime to see if he could continue on with his football career on the west coast.
He had a successful workout with the Lions, stepping into the back-up safety role, as well as becoming a key player on special teams. He played 15 games with the Lions before having a déjà-vu experience.
“When I broke it, it was against Edmonton, actually, and I always remember… I was talking trash to a bunch of my old teammates that were still playing with Edmonton. I ran down on the very first play of the game, and someone fell on my leg and I got hit from the side and my leg broke. I knew instantly. I thought to myself, ‘Not again. This can’t be happening again.’”
LaRose had broken the same leg as he had in 2008, this time cracking his tibia and dislocating his ankle. He said that the injury wasn’t as severe as the first time, but it was still devastating.
He bounced back from the injury in time for the 2011 season, and won out the starting safety job in training camp. But, with the good came the bad.
“Last year was a bit better, but last year was still tough. I broke my forearm in the last pre-season game against Saskatchewan, and I had to deal with the death of my mother at the beginning of August. Last year was tough, but the end result was amazing.”
Finally healthy when his team was in the playoffs, LaRose played in his first Western Final and Grey Cup game last season with the orange and black, taking home the big prize.
“It had all come basically full circle and to hoist that cup at the end was just an amazing feeling.”