MIAMI GARDENS --- Austin Larkin could’ve given up so many times over the past few years.
But he hadn’t, and on Thursday night, his perseverance paid off on the biggest stage he’s ever played on.
On third down with just over two minutes remaining in the half, Larkin, a 6-foot-3, 255 pound defensive end for the Falcons, came off the edge and committed a spin move against Dolphins lineman Jordan Mills.
It was such a fluid motion that Mills seemed disoriented, turning around much slower than he should have. But by the time he realized it, it was too late. Larkin easily brought backup quarterback Josh Rosen to the grass for a sack and a loss of nine yards.
That play was the highlight of a five tackle, one sack performance for Larkin. It caught the eye of his coaches, and it proved that the journeyman’s path may be starting to line up on the right track.
“It's been a process,” Larkin said after the Falcons’ 34-27 preseason loss. “And as you bounce around a lot, you just have to keep trying to get better and better from the guys around you.”
By that mindset, Larkin has learned a lot, given that he’s had a different set of guys around him almost every year. The 24-year-old played two seasons at Purdue, where he accumulated 41 tackles and two-and-a-half sacks. But that came after short stints at the City College of San Francisco (a junior college) and as a walk-on at Notre Dame.
Larkin signed as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys in 2018. He didn’t last long, and was cut during training camp. Still wanting to play, he signed with the AAF, an up-and-coming football league meant to compliment the NFL. But once it folded, Larkin was left without work again.
He never thought about quitting, though.
“I beat myself up a lot,” Larkin said, “so honestly it was pretty difficult. But the one thing I’ll never consider is giving up.”
Larkin said he worked out five times a week in hopes of earning another NFL shot. It came this offseason when his agent called him saying the Falcons were interested. Larkin, the nephew of baseball Hall of Famer Barry Larkin and cousin of former NBA first-round draft pick Shane Larkin, said he leaned on his family during his time in limbo. Since they’ve had similar athletic journeys, it made it easier for them to relate to him.
“It makes it feel more attainable because it's not some crazy concept to me,” Larkin said.
“I have people around me that have done it, and if anybody knows what it takes to get there, it's them. If I ever lose faith in myself, I have them.”
He played snaps on defense and special teams during the Hall of Fame game, and those reps increased against the Dolphins. Coach and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said he wanted to use this game to evaluate him more, and he liked what he saw.
“He started earning more time and more trusts from where he started, which was lower on the depth chart,” Quinn said. “He just kept climbing and going forward. We saw some matchups and tried to get him to get some guys early on, and he's earned that.”
With two preseason games complete, Larkin said he wants to keep improving to cement a spot on the roster. Training camp has been hard, but he said he’s enjoyed every minute of it. And considering the journey's he’s been on, more attempts at achieving his dream are all he can ask for.
“You have to be ready for any opportunity that comes,” Larkin said. “I'm very thankful to have gotten this one. \I'm just trying to make the most of it here. It’s always a grind, but I love the game.”
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