Undersized, undrafted, small school guys don’t normally carve out a 10-plus year pro football career, but that is exactly what Larry Dean is doing.
At Valdosta State University, Dean helped lead the Blazers to the 2007 NCAA Division II national championship in his freshman year and just got better from there.
By the time he left VSU, he was the school’s and conference’s (Gulf South) all-time leader in tackles — breaking the school record set by five-time NFL Pro Bowler Jessie Tuggle — was a consensus All-American his senior year, named the Daktronics National Defensive Player of the Year, and inducted into the Valdosta State Hall of Fame in 2020.
Despite all he accomplished at Valdosta State, Dean went undrafted in the 2011 NFL Draft. The NFL lockout also made Dean’s path a little more difficult, but once the lockout ended Dean signed with the Minnesota Vikings, where he played three years mostly on special teams.
Dean then spent 2014 with the Buffalo Bills before being released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on cut-down day in 2015. In all, Dean played 61 games in the NFL, picking up a total of 34 tackles and one forced fumble. But after failing to catch on with any team after the Bucs cut him, he had to look north to keep his playing dreams alive.
Dean found a football home starting in 2016 with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and his ascent to CFL stardom began. He played in all 18 games, starting 17 of them, in his first year in the Hammer, notching 78 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception in helping the Ticats reach the playoffs for the fourth year in a row. It was just the start for Dean as his star would only rise from here.
Over his next two seasons with the Ticats, Dean would establish himself as one of the league’s best middle linebackers. In 2017, Dean led the team in tackles with 96 — good for fourth in the league — and was nominated as the team’s Most Outstanding Player and Most Outstanding Defensive Player for his play.
He was also named a divisional all-star for the first time in his career. The Ticats didn’t play well as a team in 2017, starting the year 0-8 and finishing 6-12, and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2012, but there was no sophomore slump for Dean.
In 2018, Dean was even better. He once again led the team in tackles, this time with 105 (third-best in the league) and was named a divisional all-star for the second consecutive year. He was also nominated as the East Division’s top defensive player where he would lose the league-wide award to Winnipeg’s Adam Bighill.
The Ticats once again made the playoffs, losing in the Eastern Final to the Ottawa Redblacks, and Dean was a big part of the Ticats’ resurgence in 2018.
After three stellar seasons in Hamilton, Dean hit free agency and landed a lucrative contract with Edmonton. Dean repaid the Green and Gold with another excellent campaign that saw him finish with a team best 86 tackles (good for fourth in the league), was once again recognized as a divisional all-star (his third straight selection) and was Edmonton’s nominee for best defensive player. His 86 tackles were down from his previous two seasons in Hamilton, but he was still a force on Edmonton’s defense.
Dean once again hit free agency following the 2019 season and came to the conclusion that he only wanted to be in one place: Hamilton. The Ticats brought Dean back on a very team-friendly deal to put him with running mate and 2019 East Division Most Outstanding Defensive Player, Simoni Lawrence. With COVID-19 shutting down the CFL for the 2020 season, Dean will once again be a free agent this winter. If it is back in Hamilton again, we know what to expect.
Larry Dean’s football odyssey began at a small school in south Georgia and saw him go from Minnesota to Buffalo to Tampa Bay to Hamilton to Edmonton and then back to Hamilton. It is an improbable pro football career, but produced one of the best players in the CFL and a worthy addition to 3DownNation’s top 100 list.
3DownNation is unveiling its list of the top 100 active CFL players, a project that will run through December 31, 2020. To read the criteria for player eligibility, click here. The list to date can be found below.
38. OL Ucambre Williams, Calgary Stampeders
39. DB Ciante Evans, Montreal Alouettes
40. K/P Justin Medlock, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
41. REC DaVaris Daniels, Toronto Argonauts
42. DT Micah Johnson, B.C. Lions
43. OL Shane Bergman, Calgary Stampeders
44. SAM Don Unamba, Ottawa Redblacks
45. DB Ed Gainey, Saskatchewan Roughriders
46. DB Tommie Campbell, Toronto Argonauts
47. LB Adam Bighill, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
48. REC DeVier Posey, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
49. DT Cleyon Laing, Ottawa Redblacks
50. OL Matt O’Donnell, Edmonton Football Team
51. REC Kyran Moore, Saskatchewan Roughriders
52. SAM Kenny Ladler, Free Agent
53. DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
54. SAM Dexter McCoil, Free Agent
55. OL Sean McEwen, Calgary Stampeders
56. REC Eugene Lewis, Montreal Alouettes
57. DB Greg Reid, Montreal Alouettes
58. DT Mike Moore, Edmonton Football Team
59. OL Ryker Mathews, B.C. Lions
60. DB Tunde Adeleke, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
61. LB Jameer Thurman, Free Agent
62. QB Matt Nichols, Toronto Argonauts
63. DB Jamar Wall, Calgary Stampeders
64. DB Loucheiz Purifoy, Saskatchewan Roughriders
65. REC Lemar Durant, B.C. Lions
66. OL Brendon LaBatte, Saskatchewan Roughriders
67. OL SirVincent Rogers, Edmonton Football Team
68. QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Free Agent
69. DB/RET Frankie Williams, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
70. DB T.J. Lee, B.C. Lions
71. QB Zach Collaros, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
72. SAM Anthony Cioffi, Free Agent
73. DB Shaquille Richardson, Toronto Argonauts
74. REC Kamar Jorden, Calgary Stampeders
75. OL Darius Ciraco, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
76. REC Jalen Saunders, Free Agent
77. QB Dane Evans, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
78. REC Brad Sinopoli, Ottawa Redblacks
79. RET Janarion Grant, Free Agent
80. DE Avery Ellis, Ottawa Redblacks
81. DE Cordarro Law, Calgary Stampeders
82. DB Brandon Alexander, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
83. OL Jermarcus Hardrick, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
84. DB Branden Dozier, Free Agent
85. SAM Otha Foster, Saskatchewan Roughriders
86. DB Antoine Pruneau, Ottawa Redblacks
87. RB John White, B.C. Lions
88. LB Avery Williams, Ottawa Redblacks
89. LB Jovan Santos-Knox, Free Agent
90. DB Richard Leonard, Calgary Stampeders
91. REC Armanti Edwards, Edmonton Football Team
92. RB C.J. Gable, Free Agent
93. DT Mike Rose, Calgary Stampeders
94. REC S.J. Green, Free Agent
95. DB Mike Edem, Saskatchewan Roughriders
96. DE John Bowman, Montreal Alouettes
97. DB Taylor Loffler, Montreal Alouettes
98. QB Nick Arbuckle, Ottawa Redblacks
99. ST Mike Miller, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
100. DE Chris Casher, B.C. Lions