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Know Your Giants: TE Larry Donnell

Posted Feb 3, 2015

Tight end Larry Donnell is enjoying a breakout season in his second season with the Giants. He was undrafted and unsigned after completing his career at Grambling State and sat out the 2011 season. The Giants signed Donnell in 2012 and he spent that season on the practice squad. Last year, Last year, Donnell played in all 16 games and caught three passes – all in one game against Denver. This season, he has become one of Eli Manning’s favorite targets. At the midway point, Donnell led the team with five touchdowns and was second with 37 receptions, just one less than team-leader Rueben Randle. Donnell scored three touchdowns in a victory at Washington on Sept. 25.

Q: Tell me a little bit about your hometown, Ozark, Alabama. Where exactly is Ozark and how big is it?
Donnell: “Where is Ozark? That’ll be a tough question to answer. The biggest city that’s close to Ozark is probably Montgomery, Alabama. We’re down at the bottom of the state, near Florida.”

Q: How far away is Montgomery?
Donnell: “Maybe an hour away. It’s the bigger city. My wife’s from Mobile, Alabama. That’s probably one of the biggest cities in Alabama. That’s probably like three hours away from Ozark. Ozark is a small town, one high school. Walmart is the biggest thing we’ve got going, Taco Bell, the little local chains.”

Q: A couple of stoplights?
Donnell: “Yeah, a couple stoplights and once you blink you’re out of it, you’re gone. It’s a little small town where everybody knows everybody and everybody’s your cousin or aunt.”

Q: Do you have siblings?
Donnell: “Yes. I have all my father’s children. I’m my mother’s only child. So I have two brothers and a sister, who are older than me.”

Q: What did your parents do for a living when you were growing up?
Donnell: “My mom, she just retired about a year ago. She worked for maybe 35 years at a company called Westpoint Stevens. She made bed spreads and pillowcases and stuff like that. Growing up my dad was disabled. He got in a car accident and he had surgery and got messed up, so he was disabled. He was around a lot and that’s how I mainly got into sports. We went into the backyard, throwing the baseball, shooting the basketball, throwing the football. I lived on a country club so there was a golf course behind my house. I could never get into the golf thing. I was terrible. The only think I liked doing was driving the ball but besides that, yeah, I was terrible.”

Q: So sports always a big part of your life?
Donnell: “I think I started playing T-ball at four years old, barely big enough to hold a bat. T-ball went to football, I started playing football maybe around six. We had a little team, we were called the Cubs. I started there. I started playing basketball around that time, too. I went from one sport to another.”

Q: Did you have a favorite or was it just whatever was in season?
Donnell: “Whatever was in season. I kept my parents busy with basketball, football, baseball. It was all year round.”

Q: You starred a Carroll High School. Where is it located?
Donnell: “Right in Ozark. We have one high school and every school around us is a rivalry. It’s pretty spread out. There’s only one high school in Ozark so it was a small town. It’s nothing like around here.”

Q: You weren’t a tight end then, were you?
Donnell: “The only position I knew, the only position I ever played, was quarterback, from peewee on up. Actually, I take that back. In peewee my first year playing football we had a weight limit. We had to weigh in so that we could run the ball. If you weighed over that they put a little duct tape on your helmet saying you weren’t allowed to run the ball, because you were overweight. I was too heavy as a kid so I had to play O-line. I didn’t like that, so I told my dad, ‘I don’t think this is the sport for me.’ But he was like, ‘Just hold on, hang on.’ I slimmed down a little bit, got a little taller, and the next year I played quarterback.”

Q: How old were you then?
Donnell: “I was maybe seven years old. I’m playing O-line, playing D-line. That was terrible.”

Q: When did you start playing quarterback?
Donnell: “The next year my coach told me, ‘You’ve got to take the bricks out of your shoes.’ I was like, ‘What does that mean, Dad?’ He started laughing sand said, ‘You’ve got to run, baby.’”

Q: Did you play on good teams in high school?
Donnell: “I played on some good teams, especially football teams. There were some good basketball teams coming up through middle school and then when I got to high school we were pretty good in basketball. Actually in high school, my senior year we held the first home playoff game in our stadium in years. When I was in ninth grade we played JeMarcus Russell and he was a huge. The man was 6-6, 230 in high school. He was from Mobile. I’m in the ninth grade, all I did was sling it. We scored first, 7-0, in the first round of the playoffs and I think the score was like 55-7.”

Q: Did you start as a freshman?
Donnell: “No. I started my 10th grade year. Actually one of the guys I played with, Steve McLendon, he plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers right now. He was huge too. We had a good football. I think we went 8-2, 8-3.”

Q: A lot of college recruiters stepped away from you when you broke your elbow. How did that happen?
Donnell: “It was my throwing elbow. I used to come in the gym for basketball every summer and play scrimmage games. One day we were just playing a regular basketball game. The guy tipped the ball, he was on a fast break, I was trailing behind him, he pump faked and when he did I jumped and tried to block it. When he bent over I fell over him and I broke my arm. It was nasty. That was terrible.”

Q: Did you miss football your senior year?
Donnell: “I came back and played five or six games. That’s more than I was expecting to play, because I broke it in June. I had surgery, had it in a cast where I couldn’t move. When I took the cast off it was still stuck. But I played a couple games. My first game back I actually threw a touchdown pass.”

Q: By then you weren’t getting much interest from colleges…
Donnell: “Not close. One of my coach’s friends, he was a linebacker coach from Alabama, so he came down and saw me and was like, ‘Man, we would love for you to come to Grambling.’ From there on that’s how it happened. I was sold on it. I was happy.”

Q: Did you get to Grambling as a quarterback?
Donnell: “I went there as a quarterback and I threw one touchdown, it was like a 50-yard pass. It looked like a punt but at the end of the day we scored. I think I played quarterback for three games. We played Pittsburgh when LeSean McCoy was there and that’s when I realized he was the real deal. I think he scored four touchdowns in the first quarter. Probably like four games into the season, that’s when the switch occurred. The tight end coach said, ‘Look man, we need somebody. You’re always out here running around catching the ball like you want to be a receiver, just step into my office.’”

Q: What was your reaction?
Donnell: “I was like, ‘Cool,’ because I wanted to catch the ball. I didn’t want to ride the bench. I thought, ‘Tight end, I get to catch the ball,’ not knowing I had to block, too.”

Q: They didn’t tell you that you had to block?
Donnell: “The first couple days you wanted to run around and catch the football. About the third day came, we did an inside run. That’s when I realized I had block. They said, ‘Man, stick with it. You’ll be good at it.’ I got banged up for a while, but I stuck with it.”

Q: Did you still like the position, even though you had to block?
Donnell: “It was pretty cool. Right now I like it. Being a quarterback as long as I was, it was a difficult transition just by learning how to block. I’m trying to get away from those guys as a quarterback and now I’ve got to stand in the way of them? It was a tough transition, but it got better.”

Q: How good were your teams at Grambling?
Donnell: “My team was great. We won the national black college championship my junior year, we were number on in black college football, won our division. The next year, I think we lost two games. So all my years at Grambling we had some pretty nice teams. We had a couple guys get some shots in the NFL.”

Q: Did anyone at Grambling tell you that you could play in the NFL?
Donnell: (Head) coach (Rod) Broadway and one of my strength coaches, Robert Butler. They used to tell me all the time because I was a young guy. I graduated high school, I was 17 years old. I started school a year early, so when I graduated high school I was actually a year ahead. I used to goof around a lot when I first got to college just being young. I did not take things seriously. They would tell me,’ You’ve got to take things seriously.’ They used to tell me all the time. People were in my ear all the time. There were a lot of people. Rod Broadway, he was on me all the time.”

Q: What did you major in at Grambling?
Donnell: “I went in undecided then I changed it to business management, which was terrible, I couldn’t do it. Then I turned to sports management. I’m 14 hours short of my degree, because I stayed in business management for two years and when I switched I got behind.”

Q: In 2011, nobody drafted you and no team signed you as a free agent. So you stayed at Grambling to work out?
Donnell: “I kid you not. There’s a show that comes on now called “Undrafted (on NFL Network).” The guys on there said, they asked him, ‘What was your backup plan?’ One of the guys told him, ‘I have no backup plan.’ I’ll tell you right now, if you could talk to anybody that I knew, they used to think I was joking. It was never easy for me. I was never in the spotlight. I had my father and his support and I knew what I wanted to do so, when I didn’t get drafted of course it hurt. I wasn’t really expecting to get drafted anyway; I just wanted to get a shot. When nobody called I was like, ‘Alright, that’s cool. Something’s going to happen.’ So I started doing all these workouts for the AFL, UFL, CFL. I just kept doing that and I stayed at Grambling and worked out. My teachers in college used to ask me, ‘What’s your plan?’ I used to tell them, ‘I don’t have a plan (other than) the NFL.’ They thought I was joking, but I was serious. That was my dream growing up.”

Q: Was that a tough year just working out on your own at Grambling?
Donnell: Yes, but I had Doug (Williams, who succeeded Broadway as head coach). When you have somebody like that at a position of power like he is and he’s telling you, ‘Just stay with it, we’re going to get you in there…’

Q: So he kept encouraging you?
Donnell: “He did.” He’d say, ‘We’re going to get you in there, man.’ So I just stayed down there and worked out. I had my fiancé and daughter back home. I was staying with one of my buddies working out twice a day. That’s all I did.”

Q: Is Williams still a big influence in your life?
Donnell: “I saw Doug when we played the Redskins and there was just a smile on my face, a smile on his face. Doug has played a major part in my career.”

Q: So how did you end up with the Giants?
Donnell: “I came here for a tryout. They sent me back. I was probably down a little bit and they brought me in and I was bad and out of shape. But they told me if they liked me they were going to bring me back, which they did, after they won the Super Bowl (XLVI). They brought me back into camp. That year was my practice squad year.”

Q: After being out of football for a year when the Giants sign you, what was your attitude when you arrived?
Donnell: “Honestly, being new I knew that I had a lot of stuff to learn. Just by getting a shot on the practice squad I was happy. Everyone was saying I made the practice squad, I was happy, I was excited. I was excited just to be out here just playing football. I didn’t care if I was on the 53-man roster or not, I’m here, I’m a part of the Giants, man. I was excited. (Former tight ends) coach (Michael) Pope just told me, ‘Just stay and work, prepare like you’re going to play in the game.’ I took that every day and I ran with it.”

Q: Last year you were on the team and you caught three passes, all in one game. Did you think this was going to be the year when you were going to make an impact?
Donnell: “Basically, it was this year or never, that kind of mindset. I had been here long enough but man, I never doubted that I could do it; it was just having that confidence to do it. But that’s tough. Even from training camp I still didn’t have that. When we played in the preseason games I still didn’t have that confidence. I can go back and watch it now and be like, ‘Dang Larry, that’s ugly.’ That takes you a long way. That’s just a part of the game.”

Q: When did you start to get the confidence?
Donnell: “It started to turn around when we played the Steelers in the second preseason game. Coach (Ben) McAdoo (the offensive coordinator) yelled, he said, ‘You haven’t made a damn play in weeks. Your (butt) isn’t going to be out here.’ He was just saying that to get me going like, ‘You can do it.’ That really opened my eyes up. I went from being a starter to third string to getting in during the third and fourth quarter, so that really woke me up like, ‘Hey, either you’re going to do it or you’re going to be gone.’ That was really good. I’m really glad that happened.”

Q: You caught 25 passes in the first four games. Did you prove to yourself then that you can play in the NFL?
Donnell: “Yeah, man. I feel like I was finally settled down a little bit because I was just so nervous, so anxious. Then we put in a new offense in and I halfway know what I’m doing. Then the first (preseason) game we’re playing (Buffalo’s) Mario Williams, I’m looking at him and I know he’s looking at me like I’m lunch.”

Q: What did it mean to you to score three touchdowns on national television against Washington?
Donnell: “It was cool. I It was sweet, man. To be honest, I really didn’t realize what I did until after the game. I was just playing ball. It kept coming. The first one I’m like, ‘Alright, cool, I caught my first one. I’m good.’ I caught my second one I’m like, ‘Oh man, what’s going on?’ Then when Eli threw it up to me on the last one, it was just… like I said, I didn’t realize until the reporters came up to me after the game. I’m not used to that. I’m walking back to the locker room and they’re like, ‘Larry, can we talk to you?’ I’m like, ‘Woah.’ It was cool though.”

Q: After that game, did teams start to defend you differently?
Donnell: “Oh yeah. I didn’t like it. Leave me alone. I’m still Larry. I’m nobody. We played Atlanta and they weren’t letting me get off the ball without touching me. I come off the ball and (Kroy) Biermann tattooed me one time. I’m like, ‘Oh, maybe he didn’t mean to do that. Let me see the next play.’ He did it again and then Osi (Umenyiora) hit me. I was like, ‘Yeah, they mean to do it.’ That’s something I have to get better at.”

Q: How are you as a blocker these days?
Donnell: “It’s slowly progressing. That’s still one area that I will have to gain confidence. In the run game that’s what I have to do and I need to do and that’s what I continue to work on.”

Q: Now that you’ve had a taste of success, how good do you think you can be?
Donnell: “I can be as good as my mind lets me be. If I think I’ve done enough, I won’t get better at all. If I think I have a long way to go, I think I’ll achieve great things. I want to be like one of those guys like (Jeremy) Shockey or Julius Thomas. I look at him like, ‘Good god.’”

Q: Where did you meet your wife, Delana?
Donnell: “At Grambling. We started getting real into it probably my third year in school. Times were hard, so she used to cook for (us). One of my buddies went to school with here in Mobile. He used to go over her house and eat. All the guys were hungry. It was like, ‘Come over, Delana’s cooking.’ So I went over there one day and she was cooking. Everybody for two years, we used to go over Delana’s house and just eat. I said, ‘his is not a bad deal right here.’ The food got me. That was it.” (Larry and Delana have a 4-year-old daughter, Zarri.)

Q: How does a native of Ozark, Alabama like living in the metropolitan area?
Donnell: “Look, I love the fans, I love the people, but I’ve got to be in the country. After it’s all said and done, this is a little bit too fast for a country boy like myself. I came up here, I got the middle finger, the horn blown, got called names.”

Q: Because you drove too slow?
Donnell: “Yeah, but that’s how we drive back in Alabama. I started looking around and I saw all the fender benders. My wife and I, the first time we went in the city we went on the subway and we got lost and that ruined that for that. I’ve never been back. She liked it, I don’t. I’ve never been back again. We went to Central Park and we got lost. I go into the city every now and then, but not on the subway.”

Q: You hope to have a very long career here but when it’s over you’re going back to Alabama?
Donnell: “Maybe not Alabama, because that’s not too much to do - maybe somewhere like Atlanta right next to home. Because Alabama, everything closes early. If you don’t catch Subway by 11:30-12:00 you might be hungry until the next morning. One thing I do like about here, you can get food all times of the night.”