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UWRF football hires youngest defense coordinator in history

April 6, 2016

Fresh off the most wins since 2001, the UW-River Falls football defense has a new face in the form of Rocky Larson, who was named defensive coordinator. At age 24, Larson the youngest coordinator in UWRF’s history.

Larson, a UWRF graduate in 2014, formally coached at UW-La Crosse, University of Minnesota, and UWRF before accepting the job on March 24.

According to UWRF recruiting assistant Harold Tiffany, Larson is the youngest coordinator in UWRF’s football history. Larson said the respect he has with players, and fellow coaches, is mutual.

“I’ve always tried to keep a player-coach relationship. I think they’ve got enough respect for me, and I’ve got enough respect for them, so it shouldn’t be an issue,” Larson said. “The thing is, the first day, I sat down with Coach (Roger) Velasquez, we talked and he said this is your defense and I’m here to help. I was like whoa, this is our defense, and we are all in this together.”

Larson, a native of Somerset, is son of Bruce Larson, who was the winner of the NFL’s Don Shula National High School Coach of the Year in 2015. Rocky played quarterback in high school under his father, and said he told his father he wanted to coach college football in the future.

“When I was in eighth grade I told my dad that I want to coach college football the rest of my life. He asked why I didn’t want to coach high school, and I said that I like recruiting. I don’t want to be handed a team every year, and you can’t control what you are handed. So from ninth grade on, I took that mentality.”

With a back injury in 2008, Larson wanted to play football at UWRF, but could not pass the physical and was interested in managing the football team. Then, current Head Coach John O’Grady offered Larson a coaching opportunity.

“I give a lot of credit to O’Grady to give me a chance to coach as a freshman. He took a chance, and I even still run camps with O’Grady.”

Coaching at UWRF football as a student, Larson said he quickly realized, “Holy man, it’s time to grow up quick.” Larson coached at UWRF for five years, and was offered an internship with the Minnesota Gophers football program.

“Just to sit in on meetings with Coach (Jerry) Kill, just to see his notes, and how detailed everything was, I realized that is what it takes at this level.”

After his six month stint with Minnesota, Larson moved to UW-La Crosse and coached defensive backs. After a 3-7 season, the head coach at UW-La Crosse was fired and Larson was in a position to move on. UWRF Head Coach Matt Walker originally offered Larson the defensive backs coach job at UWRF, then Larson was named defensive coordinator. Larson said his first challenge was finding a staff.

“How am I going to build a staff? Coach Walker has known enough guys, and Roger Velasquez we hired on the defensive side. Scott Emery, who was a defensive coordinator here in 2006, he lives around Plum City. We needed to surround ourselves with veteran leadership on this (defensive) side. That was the most important thing when I got here.”

Larson will return the 3-4 defense with the Falcons, and says his age is not an issue with his new position.

“He (Walker) gets a lot of credit for taking a chance of a 24 year old, but just think of guys who just get done playing and start assistant coaching. So you have a kid who just graduated after playing, and they coach for a few years and become a coordinator at 29 or 30 years old, I just skipped those playing years,” said Larson.

Coach Walker said the Falcons had a number of people interested in the position, but said Larson fit the mold of what UWRF was looking for.

“The number one thing I’m looking for is people who are passionate about Falcon football. We wanted someone who absolutely loved (the program) and bought into the short-term and long-term success of it.”

Larson has received many congratulations, and says he is happy to come back home to coach where his mother, father, sister, and brother either have or currently are attending. Larson said he can bring a lot to the Falcons coaching staff.

“The thing I can bring to this staff is validity in western Wisconsin, not that we don’t have it. I played in the Middle Border Conference, my dad has been the West Region Coach of the Year, I’ve been to every conference in the world. My dad drug me with him everywhere he went, and I hated him at the time for it, but now I have a lot of connections because of it. And this is our backyard, we have to win western Wisconsin.”

Larson says that in the 60-day window where the Falcons had no official defensive coordinator, the team only lost one or two recruited players and credits Walker and Coach Jake Wissing, and says he will coach on the field in this coming season.

“I’m going to be Falcon football, I’m going to give it everything I got. It’s going to be good enough, we are going to win games. We are going to win some football games and we are going to take this place back to where it needs to be. This program is going to get every ounce I got.”