Larry Johnson III continues the legacy of his namesake

Stevenson’s perennial All-MAC tennis player attributes his phenomenal career to his father
Larry Johnson II takes pride in the accomplishments of his youngest son, Larry Johnson III.
Larry Johnson II takes pride in the accomplishments of his youngest son, Larry Johnson III.
Courtesay of Larry Johnson III

The sound of sneakers squeaking against the court floors filled the room. Beads of sweat rolled down the neck of Larry Johnson III and left a salty taste in his mouth. He tossed the ball in the air, feeling its familiar neon fuzz as it landed back in his palm. Larry III glanced towards his father sitting in the bleachers, who raised his eyebrows, giving Larry III a look only he could understand. He nodded, raised his racket and thwack! The game began. 

Larry III’s career began at birth. His father, Larry Johnson II had a plan from the very beginning. Ever since Larry II picked up tennis in his 30s, he decided to pass on his legacy, as well as his name, to his last born son. 

“I quickly developed what we call the tennis bug,” Larry II said. “By the time Larry III was born, I firmly believed this was the best sport to play. Tennis is considered the sport of a lifetime. I personally know people who play into their 80s.”

Now a graduate student and starter on Stevenson’s men’s tennis team, Larry III looks back on an impressive athletic career, making All-Middle Atlantic Conference Commonwealth first team three times in a row, helping the team claim two consecutive MAC Commonwealth titles, and smashing the record for most combined wins of 86 with over 97 victories – just to name a few of his accomplishments.

Just recently, on April 30, Larry III won his third consecutive MAC Player of the Week.

It all began with Larry II’s plan, which started with cleats and a grass field. Larry II introduced his 6-year-old son to soccer, an entirely different sport, with the underlying intention of enhancing Larry III’s footwork.

“Psycho behavior! I was just a kid, but I didn’t realize ‘til I got older what he was doing to me. He was getting me ready from the very beginning, and I didn’t even see it yet,” Larry III said.

Then, two years later, he quit. Larry III gave up tennis to play basketball and football like the rest of his friends. It wasn’t until he was entering high school that he finally picked up the racket again.

“When I stopped wanting to play, he didn’t freak out, but from [ages] 8 to 14, he would always press me to ask, ‘Wanna go hit? Wanna go play?’ I’m just like ‘can you stop asking me? I don’t wanna play tennis.’ He was like, ‘okay, let me know when you like, get real. He’s like a psychic with it. He knew that at some point, I would wanna take something serious,” Larry III said.

Although Larry III continued to play the sport he excelled at, he threw himself into almost every sport his school had to offer, joining the football team, basketball team, track and cross country.

“I was like a jack of all trades, but I was a master at nothing.”

Finally, when senior year rolled around, Johnson noticed his friends committing to colleges on athletic scholarships, one after the other. Suddenly determined to obtain a scholarship himself, Larry III started taking tennis seriously. 

“They spent the whole year getting good at one sport. I feel like you get to a certain age where you have to pick something and try to get really good at it,” Larry III said. “I feel like I could have gotten more scholarships if I would have gotten serious about it my freshman year.”

Later that year, Larry III was asked to play tennis for two schools, Coppin State University and Stevenson University. While Coppin offered Larry III the scholarship he had hoped for, he decided to join the Mustang family.

Larry Johnson III prepares to receive the ball during a tennis match. (Courtesy of Larry Johnson III)

What motivates Larry III however, is not the awards and recognitions, but his father, who has attended every one of Larry III’s matches since his freshman year. 

“He’s definitely the inspiration and the fact that I kept pushing me forward to keep taking it serious, stay focused. It got to the point where like most of the things I was doing was for the sake of just impressing him. The better I got the higher his expectations got, which just made me want to keep meeting those expectations,” Larry III said.

When men’s tennis coach, Evan Clifton was initially introduced to Larry III, he immediately noticed the drive and discipline that Larry III portrayed during his matches, traits that stemmed from the training of his father.

“Larry is always been someone who’s demanded a lot out of himself. He’s always held himself accountable to the highest standards– sometimes even too high,” Clifton said.

Larry II is a tough coach to his son, always pushing him to be better, and rarely giving compliments. Off the court however, Larry II is a proud father.

“Of course, he won’t admit it, but he probably sees me as a really good tennis player, but he wouldn’t show that to me. But I think it’s on purpose, because I’m seeing him not hyping me up, not saying ‘this was good, ‘you played great.’ But when I get around his friends, his coworkers, they’re like, ‘oh he will never shut up about you,” Larry III said.

Larry III hits the ball towards his opponent. As team captain, he is often expected to win number-one overall in singles games. (Courtesy of Larry Johnson III)

Clifton admits Larry III is one of the best, if not the best tennis player, that has ever played for Stevenson University. Although he would not be the captain and leader that he is today without the foundation laid down by Larry II.

“For a college athlete to have all of those traits and responsibilities and to still be simultaneously a really empathetic and understanding person is such a rare thing. But having gotten to know Larry, especially his father, Larry Johnson II, it is not surprising, as that is who his father has molded him to be,” Clifton said.

Even now, Larry III continues to look to his dad for guidance. The duo share an unspoken language that allows them to communicate on the court.

“He’s kind of like the moral support I need. I know if there’s a certain shot, certain strategy, whatever it is I need, I can just look at his eyes, and whatever face he makes, I know what to do. We have that kind of connection. He can just make one little gesture with his hand, and I’m like ‘ok got it,’” Larry III said. “That is my at home coach. Yea, coach Clifton is my school coach, but that’s my guy. My dad is my guy.”

From listening to the play-by-play through a radio during the Coronavirus pandemic, to traveling during spring break to South Carolina and Orlando, Larry II makes every effort to watch his son play. He has attended every match of every season, even on the days when the father-son duo experience a falling-out.

The times that he isn’t there, it’s not that I can’t think for myself, but I feel like I’m missing a piece. It’s like I’m fighting uphill because I’m missing a piece right now, I’m missing part of me.

— Larry III

Tennis is an important aspect in the unique relationship that Larry III shares with his father; it is a sport they can continue to bond over many years from now.

“It’s definitely something that I don’t wanna put down. Not many people can say, once they graduate college and get on the older side that they still play a sport. Tennis is a lifelong sport,” Larry III said.

On the tennis court, Larry III earns more than Most Career Singles wins and MAC Player of the Week… he earns his dad’s pride.

“You can keep the ring, reward, keep the trophy, keep whatever it is. My dad said I did great. If ya’ll don’t understand how that feels for me: that feels like I got 10 rings; it feels like I got 10 trophies… He’s always making the effort. I don’t tell him enough, but I love him for that. He’s always there.”

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About the Contributors
Katie Campbell
Katie Campbell, Editor-in-Chief
Katie is a sophomore nursing major from Bethesda, Maryland. In addition to journalism, she enjoys playing and coaching soccer. As Editor-in-Chief of the Villager, she is excited to capture the unique and inspiring stories of the Stevenson community.
Kevin Kouchoukos
Kevin Kouchoukos, Sports Reporter
Kevin is a sophomore communication studies major with a minor in marketing from Nottingham, New Hampshire. He wants to pursue a career in sports media and PR. Outside of The Villager, Kevin also works with the athletic communications department. He is also a member of the Stevenson men's beach and indoor volleyball teams. Kevin also has a cockapoo named Wrigley and two cats named Pumpkin and Brian.
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