Larry Prout committed to the University of Michigan football team Tuesday. He didn’t consider another school.
He announced his decision at a table in the lobby of Schembechler Hall, two seats away from head coach Jim Harbaugh, wedged between backup quarterback John O’Korn and his mom, Kathryn Prout.
“Our team just got bigger,” said Harbaugh.
Got tougher, too.
Though not in the way you might think. Because there is Saturday gridiron tough, and there is showing bravery in the face of death tough. Larry has faced death again and again. From the moment he was born, with most of his organs outside of his body.
He lived on a ventilator the first three years of his life. Fought pneumonia innumerable times. Battled sepsis. Endured 90 surgeries. Didn’t say his first word until he was 3. Didn’t take his first step until he was 9. Didn’t take his first gym class until this fall, at 15.
That he was here, sitting before a few dozen cameras and half as many reporters, fielding questions, is surely some kind of providence.
As he said during his new conference:
“I was not given much chance to survive outside the womb, let alone survive two weeks after birth. I’ve been cut open and sewed back up many, many times. Not of all of the surgeries were a success. But this didn’t stop my family from bringing me back. I’m signing and committing to the University of Michigan football team, I’m thankful for this opportunity.”
Larry was born with spina bifida, a condition in which the membranes and backbone around the spinal cord don’t fully close. He was born without skin from his sternum to his rectum.
He spent the first 18 months of his life at U-M’s Mott Hospital. Went home. Then came back. Again. And again. For weeks at a time. Or for months — once even six.
His parents, Kathryn and Larry Sr., took turns living with Larry Jr. at the hospital, and took turns raising their other five children in Marion Township, outside Howell. The community pitched in. Friends provided rides. Everyone, it seemed, brought pizza.
The best part of the hospital stays came on Thursdays, when U-M sent athletes and coaches from its sports teams to visit the kids. Larry looked forward to that, and he looked up the lacrosse players and basketball players and football players who came by. He had no choice but to become a Wolverine fan.
But nothing was like football Saturdays. Even from his hospital room on the other side of campus, he and his family could feel the buzz.
Last winter, a friend told Kathryn about Team Impact, a non-profit outfit that aims to attach chronically sick kids with college teams around the country. So that they might feel part of something larger than their medically constricted world.
The next thing she knew, her son was gazing at recruits at a BBQ in Michigan Stadium. Harbaugh was hosting. And Larry was getting “recruited.”
“I was bursting,” said Kathryn of the March invite. With pride. With relief. With a bit of wonder.
All his life, her son had watched others be part of a team, of something beyond themselves. Now it was his turn, a reward for a lifetime of fighting.
“This has helped,” said Kathryn.
In ways she can’t describe. It’s helped U-M’s football team, too, said Harbaugh.
“It’s an honor to share the sideline with Larry,” he said. “We feel like we are drawing the long straw.”
(2016 © Detroit Free Press)