TAMPA — Bob Larsen did not let his boys play football until they started high school.
"Ted was always a big kid, and I didn't want him at 12 to play with 14-year-olds and let them use him as a free lunch," Larsen said. "Over the years, I've seen too many stars in Pop Warner play a year or two of high school and they're burned out. I wanted them to explore all the other sports and told them, 'If you still want to play football, so be it.' "
If you think Bucs starting guard Ted Larsen is an overnight success story, you should hear his father's narrative.
It was Wednesday evening and Bob was hurrying to Palm Harbor University High, where his youngest child, Chris, a freshman who just completed his first junior varsity football season, was about to make his wrestling debut. His wife, Karen, was headed in another vehicle to East Lake High, where their daughter, Melissa, performed in the drama club's fall production.
Ted, who in September was claimed off waivers by the Bucs from the Patriots, had wrapped up practice several hours earlier in Tampa.
Bob hears Ted's name mentioned on sports talk radio and he still has to pinch himself.
A few months ago, he and his wife were walking into Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., for the Patriots' first preseason game when they purchased a program, rifled through it to get to the picture of their son next to one of Randy Moss and tears started rolling down their faces.
When Larsen, a 6-foot-2, 305-pound center from North Carolina State was drafted in the sixth round by the Patriots, Bob was overwhelmed. "I thought what a class organization, Hall of Fame coach in Bill Belichick, Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady, great owner in Bob Kraft."
If his release by the Patriots surprised him, Bob was floored that Ted, 23, was claimed by the hometown Bucs. As soon as the news hit, he received a text message from one of his construction buddies. "New England in the fall would've been nice," it read.
Bob fired this text back: "But you know, driving across the causeway is priceless."
"It's been an unbelievable ride," he said.
Ted played soccer and baseball until he got to Palm Harbor U., but even then, Bob says Ted was under the radar.
But as a junior defensive tackle, he registered 85 tackles and 15 sacks. A few colleges began to notice, and as a senior, he was named district player of the year by the Pinellas County Coaches Association, earning All-Pinellas first-team and All-Suncoast second-team honors after recording 65 tackles and eight sacks.
He redshirted as a freshman at N.C. State and played sparingly the next two seasons at defensive tackle, then switched to center.
"He made a position change in college, and he had terrific luck with that," said Bob, who was a defensive end at Wichita State from 1972-76. "Next thing you know he's invited to the Senior Bowl, and he's at the NFL (scouting) combine and preparing for his pro day. I'm sitting here going, 'Oh my gosh, could he get a chance to play on Sundays?' "
The Patriots had Larsen play guard in the preseason, and the Bucs paid close attention.
"The report on him coming out of college was tough, versatile and plays with a good pad level," general manager Mark Dominik said. "The thing that encouraged me was he didn't get beat up by bigger guys. He was able to hold his ground and battle."
Tampa Bay began the season with Keydrick Vincent, 32, starting at left guard, but released him after five games. Jeremy Zuttah, a third-year pro who started all 16 games last season at that position, had to fill in at center for injured starter Jeff Faine.
Larsen quickly learned the Bucs offense and played when Vincent got hurt in a loss to New Orleans. He has started every game since.
"The system is similar, and our O-line coach (Pete Mangurian) was with the Patriots," he said. I've tried to get in there every day and work a little extra."
In a win over Carolina on Sunday, Larsen pulled and threw the key block to spring Cadillac Williams for the game-sealing 45-yard touchdown run.
"He's come in and shown a lot of moxie, a lot of want-to, a lot of will," coach Raheem Morris said.
Larsen feels fortunate to be playing in the NFL, much less in his hometown.
"Yeah, it's neat," he said. "Growing up watching the Bucs and then you get an opportunity to play for them. It's fun."
Bob still doesn't think this was ever Ted's dream. "It started to happen and he just ran with it," Bob said.
"… I get just as much of a charge or thrill watching Chris and Melissa as I do watching Ted. But it's been special."