Driven by family: A van, a fitness test and an NFL dream
Larry Borom didn’t play a snap of football until his freshman year of high school. Now he is a standout on the Missouri offensive line.
Nov. 29, 2020
Outside a brick-layered house in the Oak Park suburb of Detroit used to sit a beat-up, faded-blue Chevrolet Venture van.
The van belonged to future Missouri right tackle Larry Borom, who drove it every day from his 16th birthday to the day he graduated from Brother Rice High School.
He used that van to drive his sister, Terri, to the bus stop before sunrise every morning. After basketball and football practices, he would drive it home and change before driving to another gym for another workout.
Borom’s mom, Joelle Hershman, saved the van from a scrap yard when she bought it for $800 from a gambler in need of some extra cash. It was all Hershman could afford. When she bought it, the van had already racked up tens of thousands of miles. It was aged but operable, and there was no telling how long it would last.
“I prayed every day that my son would get in that van and he would make it to school and make it home,” Hershman said. “I said, ‘God, please let this van make it until he graduates.’ He just needed to graduate.”
Somehow, the van held up. It was a constant presence throughout high school, a period of Borom’s life when he gave up his childhood sport to pursue football, with the hopes that it would give him the best chance to afford a college education. He gave up one dream and found a new one.
Borom faced plenty of scrutiny from coaches who doubted he could play football at the next level. But for as under-recruited and under-evaluated as he was, Borom is now right where he wants to be: playing standout football on Missouri’s offensive line.
Growing up, Borom lived with his single mom, younger sister and grandmother. He is especially close with Terri, who still calls her brother frequently despite their 10-year age gap.
As a waitress at Leo’s Coney Island restaurant, Hershman needed to be at work by 6 a.m. seven days a week, and she never returned until later in the afternoon. While she was gone, Borom made sure he was always around to care for his sister and grandmother, who has suffered from cardiomyopathy since she had a heart attack when Borom was 6 months old.
“He was always the one there for me, filling in the gaps so that I was able to work and I didn’t have to worry whether the house was okay or his sister was okay,” Hershman said.
She was in safe hands. So were his football teammates. They never had to worry about whether the quarterback was OK with Borom blocking.
Nicknamed “Quiet Giant”, Borom made an immediate positive impact wherever he went. Teammates loved and respected him, but he still doubted whether football was right for him. He didn’t play football until high school.
One sprint up and down the basketball court. Then a second roundtrip. Then a third. That’s how Borom spent basketball practices early on his freshman year of high school.
Day after day, Borom watched from the sidelines as his teammates practiced for the upcoming season. He wanted to be out there. All the 6-foot-4, 320-pound center could do was work on his conditioning in the hope that he could eventually pass the team’s fitness test.
Borom started playing basketball as soon as he could walk. It was his first love, but deep down, he knew that he wouldn’t be able to play it forever. The metabolism didn’t match.
“His inability to run up and down the court is what held him back in basketball,” Borom’s high school hoops coach Ed Shaffer said. “He carried a lot of weight, and he had to address that in order to compete.”
Despite his lack of speed and stamina, Borom always stood out on the hardwood. Hershman said her son shot 95% around the basket and never missed his free throws. He had soft hands near the rim, deterred opponents from entering the paint and loved to throw down the occasional dunk.
“When we got him in position around the basket, I wanted to make sure the ball got in his hands because he was so much bigger than most the guys he was playing against,” Shaffer said. “He had the footwork and the hands that led to success there.”
Borom continued to hone his basketball skills in AAU ball. From 2014-16, he played for the Detroit Spartans and traveled to Kentucky to face former NBA star Penny Hardaway’s club team. The Spartans lost that game by single digits, and at one point, Borom tried a putback dunk over a 6-5, 300-pound defender. After the game, Team Penny’s coach, Todd Day –– the Arkansas Razorbacks’ all-time leading scorer –– approached Spartans coach Shawn Bean.
“That kid should be on a football team,” Day told Bean.
Borom soon came to that realization himself.
“The saddest day was when he decided that he needed to give up basketball and solely concentrate on football,” his mom said.
He didn’t have the same passion for football at first. Even now, he still loves to reminisce about his basketball career. His favorite memory was finally passing that damned high school conditioning test freshman year.
He drove home in his old van feeling immense pride that day, reflecting on all the repetition and sprinting — in the gym and in the school hallways. The time he spent apart from his team at practices had paid off.
“When he got past the running hurdle, I went up and gave him a hug,” Shaffer said. “He was so proud and happy to be able to join the team. He had a huge obstacle in front of him that I know he wasn’t sure if he could overcome. It was just so satisfying to see him realize he could.”
It was Borom’s first sense that he could do anything if he worked hard enough. Maybe he could even outrun the huffing and puffing of his own van.
One day during junior year, Borom was working out in the Brother Rice weight room when a Division II football coach came in to evaluate players.
After the coach took Borom’s measurements and watched him lift, he arrived at a quick conclusion: Borom wouldn’t be athletic enough to play football at the Division II level.
“You’re seeing something completely different than I am, because I think he is a Division I player,” Dave Sofran, Borom’s high school football coach, indignantly told the recruiter.
When Borom first met Sofran in eighth grade, he told the coach that basketball was his sport. Sofran knew from that first encounter that Borom would turn to football. After all, the kid barely fit through the door to Sofran’s office.
“I remember telling him, ‘Larry, there’s a lot of big guys out there that are 6-5, 6-6, that can play basketball,’” Sofran said. “‘There’s not a lot of big guys like you, that can move as well as you do, that can play football.’”
Borom had never played a down of football in his life when Sofran pitched him on switching sports. But over time, the coach increasingly believed Borom had the raw athleticism and hand speed to make it on the collegiate level.
Borom was able to play on either the offensive or defensive line, but Bean believed that his quiet personality and character made the outside tackle spot a perfect fit for him.
“Defensive [linemen] have to have a disruptive nature,” Bean said. “They have to be a little more self-centered because it’s all about them causing havoc and being disruptive. Offensive [linemen] are more selfless, who are willing to give up any type of glory for the betterment of the team. Nobody cares that your offensive line blocked for 80 plays.”
Bean believes that the lateral movement necessary to defend fleet-of-foot guards in the pick-and-roll is what sets Borom apart from his peers on the football field.
“Those defensive ends, they’re not able to beat him around a corner, like they can a lot of kids his size,” Bean said. “He’s able to move side to side with those quick defensive ends, which for a tackle is the name of the game. Everybody wants to get to the quarterback, but your best bet is traveling around [Borom], and he’s deceptively fast for his size.”
After he joined the football team, Borom continued to get stronger and even more athletic. By his senior year, Borom could do 20 repetitions of over 200 pounds, something he struggled with as an underclassman. Soon those physical changes became evident on the field.
He improved his pass-protection skills and started to move opponents off the ball in the run game. Right before that senior season began, Borom received his first and only Division I offer from Missouri.
Game after game, Borom continued to prove scouts wrong and showed enticing flashes of what he could do at the college level.
The weight room recruiter was right: Borom wasn’t fit for Division II. He was better suited for the SEC.
Hand-painted phrases greet guests when they descend into the Boroms’ black-and-gold basement: “Big Larry,” “The Quiet Giant” and “The game is won in the trenches.”
Take a walk around that basement and you will find everything from old pairs of gloves and high school jerseys to Borom’s helmet from the Blue-Grey All-American Bowl.
It didn’t always look that way.
In Borom’s sophomore year of high school, a flood swept through the area and wiped out the entire basement. When Hershman redid it, she chose to paint the walls mustard yellow with a black trim. Looking back, she said that it was a pretty fortuitous decision.
“It was like we knew for some reason,” Hershman said, “it was meant to be.”
It certainly feels meant to be on the field. When healthy, Borom has started every game but one since 2019 and took another step forward in 2020. According to Pro Football Focus, through his first four games Borom hasn’t given up a single QB pressure and has only been beaten by the defender in front of him three times.
Hershman hasn’t been able to see her son play in person at all this season. She still cares for her mother at home, and because of COVID-19, making the trip to Columbia has been impossible.
But she still tunes in for every game to watch her son live out his dream in college football’s premier conference.
Sometimes, Hershman can’t help but think back to the time when she worried about Borom getting home every night in that beat-up Chevrolet Venture van.
As Borom entered the final week of his senior year of high school, that van began to act up. It sputtered and wheezed, and after Borom pulled into his driveway on the last day of school, the van –– with over 200,000 miles on it –– broke down for good.
But by then it served its purpose. It allowed Borom to get from point A to point B, help his family, get to practices and eventually start for the Missouri Tigers on a scholarship.
Not bad for an $800 van.
Edited by Jack Soble | firstname.lastname@example.org