Larry Centers

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Larry Centers
No. 31, 37
Fullback
Personal information
Date of birth: (1968-06-01) June 1, 1968 (age 46)
Place of birth: Tyler, Texas
Career information
College: Stephen F. Austin
NFL Draft: 1990 / Round: 5 / Pick: 115
Debuted in 1990 for the Phoenix Cardinals
Last played in 2003 for the New England Patriots
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Receptions 827
Receiving yards 6,797
Receiving Touchdowns 28
Rushing yards 2,188
Rushing Touchdowns 14
Stats at NFL.com

Larry Eugene Centers (born June 1, 1968) is a former American football fullback in the National Football League (NFL) for 14 seasons, mostly for his first team, the Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals (1990–1998). Centers then played for the Washington Redskins (1999–2000), Buffalo Bills (2001–2002), and finally was a member of the New England Patriots for their second Super Bowl win in 2003.

One of the most prolific pass catching running backs in NFL history, Centers topped 100 receptions in 1995 and had 99 receptions in 1996. He owns NFL records with most passes caught and most yardage for a running back during a career.[1] He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1995, 1996, and 2001.

Early life[edit]

Centers grew up in Tyler, Texas.[1] He played little league football during his elementary school years and advanced to the middle school and high school levels. He earned a scholarship invitation to the nearby Stephen F. Austin State University, among others, as he approached graduation from high school in Tatum, Texas.[2] His brother, Donnie, played for the University of Arkansas as a wide receiver.[1] Centers has five children. He lived in Plano, Texas during the off-season.[3]

College career[edit]

Centers originally began his career at Stephen F. Austin University, a Division I-AA school, as a wide receiver.[3] He broke a finger on his left hand and switched position to running back. He was a two-time all-Southland Conference pick and set a school record for rushing yards in his senior season.[3]

Professional career[edit]

Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals[edit]

After graduating from Stephen F. Austin State University, Centers was drafted by the Phoenix Cardinals in the fifth round of the 1990 NFL Draft.[4] He saw limited playing time in his first two seasons, as head coach Joe Bugel had doubts on his ability to carry the ball and thought of him as a third-down running back.[5] According to his coaches, Centers particularly needed work on his pass protection skills and he spent an entire off-season mastering the capability.[6] His playing time started to increase and by 1992, Centers rushed for 139 yards and caught 50 passes for 417 yards.[7] On October 4, 1992, Centers scored the winning touchdown against the Washington Redskins with less than a minute remaining to break an 11 game Cardinals losing streak.[8]

The role of the fullback as a ball carrier was starting to diminish as the NFL game evolved during the 1990s. Yet, Centers's offensive numbers only increased as the years went by, especially his receptions and his leadership ability.[9] He caught 66 passes in his fourth NFL season.[7] In 1994, Bugel was fired and replaced by Buddy Ryan. Ryan allowed Centers more opportunity to run with the ball, carrying the ball a career high 115 times while catching 77 receptions.[5] In 1995, Centers had one of the greatest seasons of any fullback, recording 101 receptions for 962 yards.[5] He became the first running fullback to record 100 receptions and as of 2013, the 101 receptions are the most in a single season for a fullback.[3][10] He also rushed for 254 yards, scored four touchdowns, and was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time. Unfortunately, his team was not successful despite his contributions; they finished the 1995 season with a 4-12 record and Ryan was fired at the end of the year and replaced by Vince Tobin.[5]

In 1996 Centers recorded 99 receptions for 766 yards and seven touchdowns, while also gaining a career high 425 yards on 116 carries, and he scored two touchdowns on the ground.[5] He was selected to the Pro Bowl for the second year in a row, but once again his team had a disappointing season, finishing with a 7-9 record. Centers became a free agent after the season. Both the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants were interested in his services, but ultimately he signed a three year, $7.5 million contract to stay with the Cardinals after switching agents, becoming the fifth highest paid running back in the league.[11] After previously leading the team in receptions the last four seasons, the Cardinals started to try Centers in different offensive formations at wide receiver.[5] Centers continued to be a major contributor to the Cardinals, recording 123 receptions and 386 rushing yards over the next two seasons.[7] In his final year with Arizona (1998), the team recorded a 9-7 record and made the playoffs as a wild card. The Cardinals made it all the way to the divisional playoffs before being eliminated in a 41-21 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.[12] Centers finished his Cardinals career as the team's all-time leading pass catcher.[9]

Washington Redskins[edit]

Citing durability and salary cap concerns, the Cardinals released Centers on June 19, 1999.[9][13] At the time of his release, Centers was considered "the heart and soul" of the Cardinals offense.[9] He signed with the Washington Redskins and quickly became a team leader, recording 69 receptions in his first season with the team.[7][14] During a crucial game against the 49ers, Centers caught a 33-yard touchdown pass in overtime, which made the Redskins the NFC Eastern division champs for the first time since 1991. The Redskins finished the season with a 10-6 record but were eliminated in the divisional playoffs by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 14-13.[15] The following year, he caught 81 passes for 600 yards, rushed for 103 yards, and used his blocking to help running back Stephen Davis achieve star numbers, 1,318 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. He passed Keith Byars for most receptions by a running back.[1] However, the Redskins recorded only an 8-8 record that year and did not make the playoffs.

Buffalo Bills[edit]

In 2001, Centers signed with the Buffalo Bills and made it to his third Pro Bowl appearance, catching 80 passes, this time for a total of 620 yards, with 160 yards rushing and four touchdowns.[7] In the fourth quarter of a 23-13 loss against the Seattle Seahawks, he surpassed Ronnie Harmon's record for most receiving yards by a NFL running back with a two yard reception.[1] He also surpassed Hall of Famers Charlie Joiner and Michael Irvin to reach the top ten all time in receptions by a player.[1]

New England Patriots[edit]

After spending another year with Buffalo, Centers joined the Patriots in 2003.[6] By this time, 35-year old Centers' role as a receiver (along with ball carrier) had greatly diminished. He was released after the sixth game of the season due to a knee injury, before re-signing with the Patriots in December.[6] He recorded 19 receptions for 106 yards and rushed for 82 yards.[7] Still, his blocking contributions as part of the Patriots offense allowed him to earn a Super Bowl ring; New England finished the season with a 14-2 record and went on to defeat the Carolina Panthers 32-29 in Super Bowl XXXVIII.[16]

Centers retired before the start of the 2004 season.

NFL stats[edit]

In his 14 NFL seasons, Centers rushed for 2,188 yards, caught 827 passes for 6,797 yards, returned five punts for 30 yards, returned 33 kickoffs for 617 yards and scored 42 touchdowns (14 rushing/28 receiving).[7]

Centers's 827 receptions are currently the most by any running back and the second most by any non-wide receiver in NFL history, with tight end Tony Gonzalez having surpassed his mark in 2008.[6] He caught passes in 128 consecutive games, at one point the third longest streak in the NFL.[3] That time, he was in the top 10 all-time in passes caught.[6] Because NFL fullbacks are now almost exclusively used as blockers, Centers is recognized as one of the greatest pass receiving fullbacks ever.[3][6]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Gleason, Bucky (November 25, 2001). "Catch Him if you Can; For Ageless Larry Centers, It's Better to Be On The Receiving End". The Buffalo News (via HighBeam Research). Retrieved March 6, 2014. (subscription required)
  2. ^ "Notable Alumni - Stephen F. Austin State University Alumni Association". Sfaalumni.com. August 9, 2008. Retrieved May 1, 2008. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Gosselin, Rick (November 16, 2001). "Good hands keep attention on Larry Centers.". Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service (via HighBeam Research). Retrieved May 1, 2014. (subscription required)
  4. ^ "Arizona Cardinals All-Time Draft". azcardinals.com. NFL.com. Retrieved February 4, 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Cardinals plan to get ball to Centers/". Wilmington Morning Star (Associated Press). July 22, 1997. Retrieved February 4, 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f Hackenburg, Dave (January 28, 2004). "Centers doesn't receive much attention.". Toledo Blade. p. 12. Retrieved February 5, 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g "Larry Centers Stats". ESPN Internet Ventures. Retrieved April 25, 2014. 
  8. ^ Reisner, Mel (October 5, 1992). "Cardinals 'pick' on Washington". The Prescott Courtier (Associated Press). Retrieved February 4, 2014. 
  9. ^ a b c d Beeson, Dan (July 19, 1999). "Centers is yet another Bidwell blunder.". The Prescott Daily Courtier. Retrieved February 4, 2014. 
  10. ^ "Cardinals Release Centers". The Today's News Herald (Associated Press). June 20, 1999. p. 19A. Retrieved February 4, 2014. 
  11. ^ "Cards re-sign Centers to 3-year deal". The Prescott Daily Courier (Associated Press). March 16, 1997. p. 9. Retrieved February 4, 2014. 
  12. ^ Darren Urban. "Word From the Birds Blog | Revisionist History: A playoff pounding in Dallas". Blog.azcardinals.com. Retrieved May 1, 2013. 
  13. ^ Baum, Bob (August 3, 1999). "Boston Agrees to Four-Year Deal". The Prescott Daily Courtier (Associated Press). pp. 5, 7. Retrieved February 4, 2014. 
  14. ^ Ducibella, Jim (September 21, 1999). "Newcomers Step Up To Give Redskins Needed Leadership". The Virginian-Pilot (via HighBeam Research). Retrieved May 1, 2014. (subscription required)
  15. ^ Clark, Liz (December 27, 1999). "Redskins Return to the Playoffs". Washingtonpost.com. Retrieved February 4, 2014. 
  16. ^ "Official Website of the New England Patriots | Team - History - Super Bowl XXXVIII". Patriots.com. Retrieved September 9, 2012.