home sitesearch sitemap contact fan about
  Submit/Update Profile  

Search the Network:

Football: Pettis feels mother’s presence when UL plays

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, September 11, 2014



UL tight end Larry Pettis said he wishes his mother, who died of breast and colon cancer, could see him play. (Photo: Advertiser File Photo)



When Larry Pettis arrives in Oxford, Mississippi, on Saturday afternoon to play Ole Miss, his father Larry will be there.

So too will his sister Amber.

Pettis’ mother Cynthia, however, will not.

The way the University of Louisiana at Lafayette senior sees it, however, she will have the best view of what’s happening at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

"I’ve really been dedicating this season to her," said Pettis, UL’s starting tight end and an Oxford High product.

"And if there’s one thing I wish I could do, it’s just come back home to let her see me play," he added. "But I know she’s watching me right now, and it’s just another motivation, just to look up there."

Cynthia Miller Pettis died last New Year’s Eve at the age of 51.

According to son Larry, she had been battling breast cancer for about 20 years — about as long as he’s been alive — and ultimately succumbed to breast and colon cancer.

He knew she wasn’t always well, but it wasn’t until Larry was heading back to Mississippi late last December, just after UL had beaten Tulane in the New Orleans Bowl, that he learned just how dire her fight had become.

He was on the road when an older brother braced him during a telephone conversation.

"I really didn’t know about it too much, because she was a very strong lady," Pettis said. "She kind of, basically, hid it from us. And I didn’t know how bad it was until after the New Orleans Bowl.

"My brother called, and he was just warning me, because … they didn’t tell me, because they didn’t want to distract me from football. Because she always wanted me to just do my best.

"I was coming home to something devastating, and this whole year, it’s just changed my outlook on everything," he added. "I feel like that’s why I’m having success on the field this year, and I’m not letting my foot off the gas."

Pettis, who had a touchdown catch in UL’s season-opening win over Southern, is the first to admit he did not grow up an ardent Ole Miss fan.

He describes himself more as "kind of neutral" as a youngster.

But as he made his way through Oxford High, only about four miles from the University of Mississippi, the Rebels "kind of grew on me a little bit.

"I know their traditions front and back," Pettis said. "I know every crack and cranny on the Ole Miss campus, because I grew up there and me and my friends always hung around there. It’s a beautiful campus."

The Rebels, however, never gave Pettis much of a sniff.

He’d never walk through The Grove en route to a home game, never heard Hotty Toddy shouted for him.

He does not at all hold that against them, because he was a three-sport high school athlete admittedly late to the game of big-time college football recruiting.

One assistant coach down at Ole Miss rival Mississippi State, however, was on to Pettis.

And when that assistant became head coach at UL shortly after the conclusion of Pettis’ 2010 senior season, Mark Hudspeth made him a Ragin’ Cajun.

"I always felt like Coach Hud was a guy I could trust," Pettis said, "and I’m grateful that I made that decision to come to UL."

Pettis played regularly as a reserve and on special teams for the Cajuns as a true freshman in 2011, when he had a touchdown catch against Troy, and the last two seasons as well.

But he’s largely bided his time at his primary position, first behind current San Diego Chargers tight end Ladarius Green, and the last two years behind two NFL training camp invitees, Jacob Maxwell, who now is on the practice squad of the Miami Dolphins, and Ian Thompson, who was released prior to the season by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Now Pettis is headed to Oxford, however, as UL’s No. 1 tight.

"It means a lot to go back home. It’s a pretty huge game for me," he said. "I’ve been looking at this game for a long time. It’s finally here.

"I get to go back and play in front of my family and everybody in my hometown for one last time. It’s great to go up there with a group of guys I became real close with.

"I feel like these guys are my brothers," Pettis added with reference to his Cajun teammates, "and I feel like we’re gonna have a lot of fun there."

When he first learned UL indeed would be playing at Ole Miss, Pettis was overjoyed.

"I felt it was just set up from God," he said, "just to get back and see my hometown and just do something special.

"I’m going to have tons and tons of family there. It’s gonna be real exciting. Everybody calls me and tells me they’re trying to coming to the game, and it’s like, ‘I’ve only got a certain amount of tickets.’"

But because one certain family member — one big fan — won’t make it in person, Pettis longs even more to perform in front of the ones who will.

"I’m just worried about my dad and my sister being there," he said. "I know my dad’s out there; my sister’s out there, and it’s something that’s driving me."

It’s been that way since the tough drive up to Oxford back in December, and the even-tougher drive back down to Lafayette last January.

Another semester of school was calling this time, and so was spring practice, summer conditioning and one last season as a Cajun.

"It was tough (to return), but I had my teammates surrounding me," Pettis said. "I don’t like talking about it too much, but the team helped. The guys, they always kept me up. It’s just football, and I’m just doing something I love."

He is, sensing the whole time Cynthia Pettis still has an eye on him.

"I know she’s in a better place," Pettis said, "and I know I’m doing what she would want me to do right now."