There are certain stereotypes about the makeup of linebackers, and at first glance UCLA's Patrick Larimore seems to fit the blueprint.
His favorite movie: "Gladiator."
His favorite video game: "Call of Duty."
What he likes about football: "The contact."
Yet, scratch the surface and you find a 6-foot-3, 250-pound football player who depends every bit as much on brains as brawn.
"He's a smart kid," said Clark Lea, who coaches UCLA's linebackers. "[But] sometimes book smart doesn't always translate into football smart. I told him during the off-season, 'My charge to you this summer is to become a football junky.' He really took to that."
Larimore was among the few bright spots along UCLA's defensive front in a 31-22 loss to Kansas State on Saturday.
While others seemed to be deer in the Daniel Thomas headlights — the Wildcats tailback ran for 234 yards — Larimore was doing some hunting. He made seven tackles, including one for a sack and another for a loss, when he met Thomas in the backfield and battered the ball loose.
"We knew he had ability," Coach Rick Neuheisel said of Larimore. "What he has shown is the ability to manage the defense. He did the right things and didn't get flustered when there were mistakes."
The Bruins' defense revolves around Larimore's spot at middle linebacker. The position requires knowing everyone's job. Handing that responsibility to a sophomore — even one who also spent a year in the program while redshirting — is like tossing the car keys to a teenager.
"The offense breaks the huddle and you have about 12 seconds to make sure everyone is aligned correctly, not just yourself," Lea said. "You have to check any stunts and blitzes we need to adjust, and assess their personnel."
Then . . .
"You've got to fight off a 300-pound guy and make a play," Larimore said.
Getting in position to do that isn't always about muscle.
"In football, especially playing middle linebacker, you have to be very much in control of yourself," Larimore said. "I do want to make killer hits, but if you run around like a mad man, you won't do your job."
Larimore's cerebral side has been ingrained for a while now. "We're a low-key family," said Brian Larimore, Patrick's father. "Brian is a thinker. He has always grasped big concepts pretty easy."
UCLA coaches began to see that last winter when they took a long look at him during practices leading up to the EagleBank Bowl.
"Patrick's is a story of persistency," Lea said. "This time last year, he wasn't on our radar. It wasn't until the bowl practice that we saw a different player mentally. Part of it was maturation; part of it was seeing the writing on the wall."
That writing was easy enough to read. Reggie Carter, the Bruins' middle linebacker last season, was a senior. That left junior Steve Sloan as the only middle linebacker with experience returning in 2010.
Sloan had started nine games in 2008, when Carter was moved to outside linebacker.
"Steve is a really smart guy," said Larimore, whose playing time last season came on special teams. "I had to show them in spring [practice] that I could do the reads, make the checks. When I did, they started working with me more."
Sloan started training camp atop of the depth chart and Larimore, slowed by a groin injury, missed more than a week of summer practice. Still, a week before the Kansas State game, Larimore was told the job was his.
"He's just a guy who lives and breathes football," Lea said.