words & interview_Nick DePaula
When you grow up with your father as a sportswriter, and spend years as an NFL ball boy, it’s probably not a stretch that, at least occasionally, you imagine being in the NFL yourself. If being around the NFL as a kid were all it took though, there’d probably be a lot more media attention on up-and-coming water boys.
Although the above is true of the background of the Arizona Cardinal’s Larry Fitzgerald, it’s not what made him a college record holder, a number three draft pick and a two-time EA Sports cover athlete. Natural ability, coupled with old-fashioned hard work, are what have transformed Larry into a four-time Pro Bowler. Sole Collector recently caught up with Larry in Phoenix to talk about his take on training, his favorite kicks growing up, and his new Zoom Huarache Trainers.
Nick DePaula: How did you first get interested in sports, and what sports do you remember playing when you were growing up?
Larry Fitzgerald: I just naturally gravitated to football as I got older, but I played every sport when I was a youngster. I played baseball, I played soccer and I ran track, played football and played basketball — but out of everything — I just liked the physical nature of football, and I liked that you could impose your will on people and just go out there and dominate. I’ve always liked it since I was a youngster.
What other sports do you think you were good at during that time?
I played a lot of basketball, and I was pretty good at baseball. I was good at track too.
Just as a kid growing up, how did you train for those sports? Was it just a matter of playing?
I didn’t really train at all until I got to college. I just went out there and just competed against my buddies at the high school level and then a bunch in the offseason. There was nothing different that I did, and I was just a normal high school kid. When I was growing up, it wasn’t as specialized as it is now, and I really enjoyed high school competition with my teammates and classmates and the bond that we were able to develop over the years. I have a lot of fond memories from that time.
And now there’s SPARQ scores and ways you can measure yourself against athletes from all around the country. Did you guys have any ways that you could gauge yourself or any way you could measure up against people in your class?
LF: Nope. Nothing.
Zac Dubasik: Friday night?
LF: That was pretty much how we measured up. I’m happy I did it the way I did though, because I didn’t burn myself out by the time I got to college. There were a lot of guys at college who had been training for football since they were in the ninth or tenth grade, and they were just like, “I’m tired of this.” I just couldn’t believe that people were training, lifting weights, running, doing wind sprints and doing all of these things to improve their speed, and I had never done any of it. I was really blown away by it, but it really helped propel me to get better every year and I began to enjoy it.
NDP: And once you got to college, what were some of the things that you were really starting to do differently and focus on that you were able to see an improvement from?
My speed was always an issue. People used to always tell me that I wasn’t fast enough. Once I started to train, I started to see myself become more explosive. I saw myself become faster, so I would just go at it even more and even harder and harder every single day, because I knew that if I kept pushing it, I would get faster, I would get quicker and I would get stronger, and that would give me a better opportunity to make it to the NFL, which was my ultimate goal.
And what guys at that point in the NFL did you really look up to and see yourself patterning your game after?
I worked for the Vikings as a ballyboy, so I was a big fan of Randy Moss and Chris Carter. Guys like that, and Jake Reed. I didn’t have to go far to be able to see them working every single day. I got to see what made them so special, and I was privileged as a child to be able to get that insight.
How did that come about? I understand it was from a connection your dad had?
Well my dad and Dennis Green did a radio show together. [laughs] I was fourteen, and Coach Green knew that I was really big into athletics, and he gave me an opportunity to go out there and be a ballboy, and I’m just thankful for that and had so much fun out there. The relationships that I built with those guys, I still keep in touch with Randy Moss, Dante Culpepper and even guys that you might not remember on the team. I’m still close with all of the guys. That was a lot of fun.
You went from being a ballboy, to being an All-Pro receiver and breaking some of Jerry Rice’s playoff records, to even being on the cover of Madden 2010 last year. That makes you only one of two guys [Also, Shaun Alexander] to be on the cover of both the Madden and NCAA games. What was that like and were you big on video games growing up?
I think that was the big difference between me and anyone else — I was a big gamer. [laughs] Especially growing up in Minnesota, where the winters you can’t be outside and you need something constructive to do that wasn’t going to get you in trouble. Video games were the natural outlet for my brother and I.
Once you were transitioning from college to the pro level, how’d you get involved with Nike and join the Nike family?
I always wore Nike products, even before I got to college. When I got to college I didn’t, because that was just the sponsor for our team. But I always wore Nike products when I was in high school, and I used to get stuff from Vikings guys. [smiles] I’ve always been a big fan of Nike.
Did you have any favorite shoes growing up?
I had all of the Jordans, all of my Ken Griffey Jr’s, and being from Minnesota, I was a big Kevin Garnett fan, so I always played basketball in his sneaks too. Whatever was hot, my parents always kept me fresh.
Yeah, the Garnett III was always one of my favorites, with the blue fade.
And once you got to meeting with folks from Nike, what were some of the things that you were telling them that you were looking for in your shoes?
Well now I’m training in the white Huarache Trainer, and that’s what I train in every day. I also train in my Trainer 1s, and I just like something that’s going to be comfortable. I do a lot of pounding, and I’m always on my feet, and I have sensitive toes, so I don’t like anything that’s too tight around the top of the foot. I definitely need something that’s going to support my forefoot, and I have pretty flat feet, and for me, I do have some extra issues and I need my arch to be supported.
When I’m playing, I need something that’s going to be supportive around my ankles, because I’m always cutting and stopping, and guys are always around my feet, grabbing and pulling, so I need that ankle support. More than anything, I’m a comfort guy, and I need something that feels good on my feet. That way, it gives me the piece of mind that I can go out there and perform to the best of my ability.
How early along did you talk with Aaron Cooper about the design of the Zoom Huarache Trainer? Was that something you were involved with right from the start?
They came out to the house last year, and after a game, they just came over and we just sat in the living room and talked for about an hour about everything. And then, during the summer, when I was doing my training back home, I got my box of Huaraches in and I just went to work everyday. I would train in them around the field and do my work on the field, and then I’d go to the weight room and work out in them in the gym, and everything was great. I could do everything I needed to in just the one shoe.
So why do you think guys still train in running shoes, when a cross-trainer can do everything for you, like you’re saying?
Man, I’m not just running. That’s the key. For someone who’s maybe just running, running shoes can be great. But for me, I’m doing box jumps, I’m doing plyometrics, and all types of work, and not just field work and not just weight work, but I’ll even go to the basketball court and do jumps in there and rim touches. There’s all types of things that I’m doing, and I’m never just in one place at one time, so I need something that can cover everything.
And what’s your normal workout schedule like? Can it vary all throughout the week?
I’m usually working out in the morning, and we start at 8:30 and then I’m done by noon.
A lot of the colorways of the Huarache Trainer tie into your past. When you were first talking with Coop, how did that story start to form, and what colorways did you really take to?
They just all bring back great memories. With the Vikings ball boy pair, I love how they brought the football material to the shoe, and for the colors, I always bled purple and gold growing up.
For the Military version, my uncles are both in the military, and my grandfather was in the military, and I have a lot of people in my life that were in the armed forces, and this one is just real unique to me.
And your last year in high school, you went to a Military academy. How was that experience?
Not by choice. [laughs] That was quite an experience, but I think it made me stronger and made me truly appreciate what I had and how hard you have to work. When things are taken away from you and your comforts are taken away from you, it makes you really bite the bullet and do what you have to do so you don’t have to deal with that stuff anymore.
The Pitt colorway of course came out real clean.
Back to college man. Blue and gold was our team colors, and I just have great memories at school, just the relationships and friendships that we were able to build there were great, so when I see this shoe, it just brings back some great memories.
And did you work with the guys at all on the materials? The Pitt has a nubuck base, the Military a nice suede…
Not at all, and I just pretty much gave them the colors that represented me and that I was into.
The Silver Bullet is a colorway everyone has been talking about, and it’s inspired by the cleats you wore on Monday Night Football.
For the Monday Night game, I knew they were coming out with a silver shoe later on, but you know, for me, I like to be fly and wear something that’s….
Oh yeah! I remember after the game, I had about twenty calls and texts, like, “Man, what do you got on your feet? Those are sick!!” I was pleased with the feedback I got from the guys, and it was a fast shoe, and I looked like I was moving quick out there that day, and that was a lot of fun.
And the way I heard the story, you weren’t even supposed to wear them, and they were for a different special occasion.
Man, now Jesse [Millikan] doesn’t send me anything anymore that would be a “practice in these” shoe. [laughs] Cause he knows that if they’re too fly, I’m gonna break them out on Sunday. [laughs]
The other main colorway is the Cardinals one, and that’s what you’re always wearing?
This is what I train in every day. I do my weight lifting in them, I can run in them, and obviously I’ll wear my cleats for practice, but everything I do in the building, these are the ones I wear.
When you’re training in them, do you lace them all the way up and really strap them up? Coop was telling us how that can really engage them to be a true mid-cut.
I lace them all the way up and tie them to the highest and strap them all the way in.
Looking through the whole line of the main colorways that are coming out to retail, what’s it like being with Nike all of these years and now finally having this whole collection that’s really wrapped around you?
I think it’s really great and it’s an honor that they would even consider me and my input on things. I’m just humbled and really gracious they would consider allowing me to have some input on the shoes.
Do you have a favorite element or detail?
They just look so smooth! I wear ‘em out and about all of the time too. They’re not just for training for me, and I’ll wear ‘em out in the streets too when I’m doing anything, whether that’s just taking my sons to the park.
The Superheroes pack is an energy set they’re doing for the shoes, and Coop was showing me just the whole storyboard of inspiration for each version. Can you talk about how you see yourself in each one?
Honestly, I never view myself as a superhero or a super anything, and I always just feel like I’ve been blessed with a gift and through hard work and preparation, I’ve been able to enhance my ability, with the help of my teammates and coaches, obviously. I always just live by a basic premise: Make the plays that you’re supposed to make, and try to make a few that nobody else can make. [laughs] That’s just how I approach every game.
What cleats are you wearing for games this season?
I’m wearing the Speed TDs. They wouldn’t send me the Huaraches in cleats. [laughs]
Did you ask for them?
Oh, absolutely. Jesse told me no, and I was pretty hurt.
That might get back to them. You might have a Huarache cleat next season.
I hope so!! Jesse Millikan would not allow me to wear Huarache cleats. They made them for me three years ago, but they told me I couldn’t wear them this year, and I was devastated. [laughs]
Have you been following all of the different Boom commercials that Nike Training has out right now?
Do you have a favorite?
I like the one with Rick Ross. [laughs] That’s my guy right there.
He’s not usually the athlete you think of when you think of Training.
No, he’s not doing any training. [laughs]
ZD: With the commercials being pretty popular, do you have any one moment from your career that you’d consider your Boom moment?
I’d definitely say our 2008 playoff run. I felt like I was in the moment, like I was riding on a cloud during that time.