Booker T. Washington said, "Character, not circumstances, makes the man."
Michigan State running back Larry Caper's character speaks volumes.
A senior and three-year letterwinner from Battle Creek, Mich., Caper is looking to make an impact on the field in his final season, adding to his undeniable leadership off the field.
Caper is no stranger to success, holding the Battle Creek Central High School record for all-time and single-game rushing yardage. He was on his way to the same stardom he accomplished in high school during his freshman campaign for the Spartans.
Caper led the team in rushing and his game-winning, 23-yard touchdown run in overtime beat Michigan in 2009, securing his name forever in Spartan history. But he has been forced to reflect on his life off the field after numerous injuries placed him on the sidelines in the next two years.
"My dad always told me that college was a way to grow from a boy to a man," said Caper. "After I broke my hand my sophomore year (at the beginning of the 2010 season), it was hard for me on and off the field because as an athlete you always want to be the guy who's making the plays. But I found out that I was on a journey that has nothing to do with me. I'm not here for myself; I'm here for my team. The memories I have are not the ones I make, it's what the team does. That year was definitely a transition year, growing from a boy to a man."
That growth meant learning to assist his team in other areas. His character and commitment became infectious and his teammates are constant witnesses to his ability to stay focused on the bigger picture.
"As a true freshman, guys are so focused on what they are doing on the field," Caper said. "But they are really here for something else, something bigger. For most guys, like myself, it's a way out. You get a degree and you set the standard for your family. Those types of things will last a lifetime, more than you making an interception or scoring a touchdown."
Teammate and third-year wide receiver Keith Mumphery has seen first hand the changes that Caper has gone through and the man he has become.
"He's a great mentor," said Mumphery. "Since I've met him, he's done a lot of growing up. He's way ahead of his time, just so mature. Sometimes you can walk by a person like Larry and see their focus in life. He's never negative, he is always positive. He's open to listen to your problems and tell you what's right. Honestly, he's just an all-around great guy."
Running backs coach Brad Salem sees those same character traits from Caper day in, day out.
"Larry defines us as a program," remarked Salem. "He has the qualities that we hope all of our team has, from leadership to work ethic to who he is as a person and a player. I think he has taken the mindset of really enjoying the process (of his last year) and not looking so far ahead. He's going to do some great things this fall for us."
"I found out that I was on a journey that has nothing to do with me. I'm not here for myself; I'm here for my team. The memories I have are not the ones I make, it's what the team does."
The circumstances Caper faced throughout his collegiate playing career may have been a blessing in disguise. Stepping back from the game, he was able to gain a greater perspective and help lead his team in other ways.
"I'll credit my leadership to my injuries," said Caper, who in addition to sitting out the beginning of 2010 also missed time last year after suffering a concussion in the Nebraska game. "Being injured, you are able to take a step back and look at everything else. I could actually see what other guys were going through and the encouragement they needed. I promised myself that when I was back out there, I would be that guy to encourage people; I'll be that guy to pick people up. Even if I'm hurting, I just make sure I'm not focusing on myself."
Caper's focus on his team, whether it's helping in a play or in the locker room, is a product of his growth since his arrival on campus. He's also been able to devote his efforts to other worthy causes. Twice named an Academic All-Big Ten selection, Caper has made sure to take full advantage of his time at MSU, becoming involved with Athletes in Action (AIA), a global sports ministry. This summer, he was able to participate in the Ultimate Training Camp in Colorado, a football camp with a twist.
"It's like AIA, but with action to it," he explained. "We go through the same thing that we would in a football camp, like watch film, but technically it would be bible study. Then we would take what we learned and use those principles on the field."
He's been able to bring back those lessons to his fellow Spartans.
Caper said, "We are here to serve others, we are not here to make ourselves better than somebody else or belittle anyone else. We are here to help people grow, and as a leader on this team, that's what I want to do."
With his athletic goals in mind, Caper has hopes for continuing his education in pursuit of becoming a financial planner. However, he has made sure to stay in the present and concentrate on what his team has the capability of accomplishing in the 2012 season.
"I want to keep everyone focused and just have fun," he said. "We have great expectations for this team, but with expectations comes pressure. I want to help everyone feel at ease and continue to play ball like we've known how since we were six years old."
His ongoing journey during his time in East Lansing has given him not only perspective, but wisdom to carry him through unforeseen obstacles and beyond.
"Everything that's happened has just made me a humble guy who's able to persevere through anything," said Caper. "Football is such a short time in our lives that we should take the character traits we learn here and carry them throughout our lives. Persevering is a big thing in life because you never know what life may bring. Life may bring you down, but you have to get back up, you have to keep pushing."
This story was first published in the Aug. 31 edition of Michigan State Football Gameday Magazine.