Aspen’s Andy Conarroe is catching on
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Andy Conarroe bounded off the line of scrimmage and up the right sideline before angling toward the middle of Colorado College’s Washburn Field.
After gaining some space on a Birmingham-Southern College cornerback, he managed to slip behind the safety as Tigers quarterback Jon McDonald lofted a pass down field. Conarroe, hands outstretched, pulled in the ball at the 2-yard-line and tucked it securely in his left hand as he strolled past the goal line.
“You’re holding your breath and those kinds of things,” said Andy’s father, Dave, who was in the stands for the Nov. 1 game. “It was like he had done it 100 times before.”
What transpired next was far-less routine.
“I didn’t really want to get rid of the ball, but I didn’t know what to do with it,” Andy recalled Thursday. “I went over and asked the ref if he wanted the ball or if I should keep it.”
What a long, strange and unlikely trip to the end zone it has been for the 2007 Aspen High graduate.
Little more than a year ago, Andy watched Colorado College’s homecoming game from the stands. He said he still struggles to comprehend how he wound up in uniform and in the huddle. After all, he hadn’t played football since PeeWees.
Dave Conarroe admits he chuckled at first when, this summer, his son first divulged his intentions. Friends had a similar reaction.
“They just laughed at me,” Andy said. “They said, ‘What, you’re playing football? Are you kidding?’
“Ever since camp, Nicky [Anastas] has given me a hard time, calling me a big, bad football player. Not really. I’m not big or bad. Those are the guys I try to get away from.”
Andy had intended to catch on with the school’s soccer or hockey teams when he arrived on the Colorado Springs campus for the 2008 spring semester. He was coming off a senior season in which he manned goal for Aspen’s state-semifinal run in the 3A soccer playoffs, and was on the ice for the Skiers’ state championship hockey victory over Ralston Valley.
Those plans never materialized. Dave Conarroe figured his days spent watching his son play were all but over.
“We had fun watching him in high school,” he added, “but we thought ‘OK, that’s it.'”
Not quite. Misfortune gave way to opportunity.
In June, Andy mentioned his plight in passing to a few senior members of the football team. They, in turn, suggested he consider football and promised to get in touch with the coach.
Andy thought little would come out of the conversation.
Two days later, he got a phone call.
“I didn’t know what to think,” he said. “He just asked me if I was going to come out, if I was committed. I told him I was. When I try something, I stick with it.
“I guess he decided it was worth giving me a shot.”
Andy’s improbable journey began in earnest on Aug. 19, the first day of training camp. He showed up standing barely 6 feet and weighing no more than 155 pounds.
He refers to that day as the most nerve-racking of his life.
“There were so many big dudes all around me,” he remembered. “I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into.”
In the ensuing few days, he learned to catch footballs, to run routes, to negotiate the field in a cumbersome helmet.
And he learned how to take a hit.
“I still remember the first time I got my bell rung,” Andy joked. “It was the third day in camp, the first day in pads. … I didn’t see it coming. It was kind of a skinny post route, and I was looking back and the QB put the ball up kind of high. I leaned out to get the ball, and right as I caught it, I remember being on the ground with my legs over my head.
“Your body definitely feels it. I had a lot of aches and pains.”
He stuck it out, continuing to absorb as much information as possible. Andy’s hard work didn’t go unnoticed; coaches started inserting him into team drills and giving him more repetitions.
“[Coach] never told me to leave, so I kept coming back,” he said.
Andy didn’t play in Colorado College’s first game against Occidental, but he soon learned he had made the traveling squad. One week later he was on the sidelines against the University of the South in Sawanee, Tenn., when a starting receiver went down with an injury and he was pressed into duty. While he didn’t catch a pass, he did make a tackle after a McDonald interception.
He started the Sept. 27 home game against Trinity University.
“Running on the field and standing in the huddle … was the most exhilarating, crazy time I’ve ever experienced,” Andy said. “Everything was moving so fast.”
That feeling continued. He caught his first pass ” on a short come-backer ” in an Oct. 4 loss to Austin College.
Three weeks later, he found the end zone. His parents and the Anastas family, who drove down to watch Nicky play soccer the day before, were in the stands.
“We were all there watching and Charlie [Anastas] said ‘OK, the whole Aspen contingent is here so go and score,” Dave Conarroe remembered. “The next play, he did.”
McDonald hit Andy on a post pattern for a 32-yard score.
“It was a perfect ball and all I had to do was run under it and put my hands out. The rest was history,” Andy said. “Of course I had been thinking about that for a while. It didn’t seem like it would ever be a reality, to be honest.”
Dave Conarroe had his doubts, too.
“I figured if he made the team he’d just be a practice-squadder” he admitted. “As a dad, you want to see him doing well and having fun. He wasn’t doing this to make us happy. This was his gig. He’s doing this because he wants to, not because he has anything to prove. He wanted to see if he could do it.”
Andy did just that. He hauled in three catches for 49 yards and was one of four receivers to score ” not bad for a player who had not played in more than six years. He even gained 15 pounds of muscle.
He expects to be back in pads next summer.
“I knew soccer didn’t happen for a reason and I had to move forward,” Andy added. “This has been a humongous bonus and a great challenge, and I’ve met some new teammates and some new friends. … I don’t know how things worked out this way. You just have to be open to anything.”
His father agrees.
“It’s great he got a chance. … that’s part of the allure of a small liberal arts school,” Dave Conarroe added. “You can try out for a play, try out for football, who cares? When you go away to college you have a chance to reinvent yourself.
“I suppose he’ll play next year. Or maybe he’ll go try and play rugby.”
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Prior to starting his trek across U.S., Larkins had never run more than a marathon and had never been to Colorado