When Bowling Green center Marc Larson told the Division I college coaches who recruited him four years ago that he intended to major in engineering, they usually chuckled and made it clear they didn't think he could pull it off.
"A few coaches said they didn't think there were any Division I basketball players who had gotten engineering degrees," recalled Marc's mother, Sherry Larson. "They didn't think Marc could make it work, but we knew he was capable."
At a time when the notion of the scholar-athlete often seems antiquated with so many prospects putting basketball before books, Larson's story might be enough to temporarily restore your faith. The 6-foot-9 senior has established himself as Bowling Green's most productive reserve this season while also maintaining a ridiculous 3.97 GPA as an engineering technology major, good enough to earn second-team academic all-American honors on Tuesday.
"It's definitely hard and it's definitely time-consuming," Larson said. "There have been times where I've had to go in at 6:30 a.m. and lift weights with the weights coach because I couldn't make the team session, but I figure it's worth it. There's no point in getting a degree in something I wasn't interested in and didn't want to do the rest of my life."
Whereas some coaches might have insisted that Larson switch to a less demanding major to ensure his basketball didn't suffer, Bowling Green's Louis Orr has gone out of his way to be supportive. Not only did Orr allow Larson to train apart from the rest of the team last summer so he could complete an internship required for his major, he also frequently moves practice back an hour to accomodate Larson's class schedule or permits him to skip part of the session.
Larson's straight-A average only has one blemish – and no its not some complicated advanced mathematics course from his major. The only "B" Larson has received at Bowling Green came early in his college career when he took an introductory-level speech class that happened to be taught by a notoriously difficult professor.
"I don't know if the guy actually gave out an A to anybody," Larson said, chuckling. "After one of my speeches, he complimented me in front of the class and then he still gave me an 87. I told him, 'Wait, this doesn't add up.' He was like, 'Yeah, good job.' He graded ridiculously hard."
It's no surprise to Larson's parents that he's so passionate about engineering because they recall him solving math equations to pass the time on long road trips when he was a kid. They've also seen his work ethic up close since childhood, whether it was raking the leaves in the yard, meticulously completing his homework or doing hours of basketball drills to improve his explosiveness around the rim.
Larson first embraced engineering after taking some drafting classes at Mattawan High School in Michigan. He chose Bowling Green mostly for the chance to play Division I basketball, but admits to experiencing a few regrets his freshman year when then-coach Dan Dakich had some issues with his choice of majors.
"I remember second semester, there were two offerings of a certain class I needed and both interfered with practice," Larson said. "(Dakich) was like, 'I don't know if this is going to work if you're already having scheduling issues as a freshman.' I don't know if I would have been able to stay in my major if he was still here."
Fortunately for Larson, Orr has proven more forgiving. And Larson has rewarded him by averaging five points and four rebounds this season in 21 minutes per game to help Bowling Green to a 14-12 record this season.
Larson is on pace to graduate in four years at the end of this semester, but he isn't sure whether he'll play basketball overseas, go straight into the work force or apply for graduate school yet. No matter what, he's planning to take a few months off to travel and recuperate from his busy college lifestyle.
"My life's been controlled by basketball and school since maybe seventh grade," Larson said. "I think I've earned the break."