Poppy Livers isn't your regular athlete. Standing 5-7 and weighing 168 pounds, at St. Francis High School in Seaside, California he played everything from quarterback to cornerback and didn't complain. He is always ready for battle. An explosive talent with an even greater heart, he earned his way as a walk-on at Villanova. In this installment of “Success Series” you will witness a rise from “regular” to “great” by way of hard work and dedication with no hand-outs. This is the Success Story of Lawrence "Poppy" Livers.
Leader Johnson: How was it growing up and what made you want to play football?
Poppy Livers: I grew up in a small city, Seaside, California. I was always interested in sports no matter what it was. Super competitive in them all. First started playing flag football at the Seaside boys and girls club, which later led to me playing padded football for the Seaside Raiders at the age of seven.
Leader Johnson: You have to know the stereotypes of being your size. Did that motivate you and did you ever hear talk of how you can't or were not suppose to do what you were doing?
Poppy Livers: I've always been undersized and recognized for it at every level of football, and still hear about it to this day. As a child, it didn't matter because everyone was small. Before games, my coach, Coach Kenny Bryant, made me eat donuts and taped locks on the inside of my legs to make weight to play. My uncle "Maurice Mann" was a huge father figure in my life - training me and helping me become an elite player and separating myself from the rest.
Leader Johnson: What NFL Player did you model your game after?
Poppy Livers: Growing up I've always been a huge Steve Smith fan. One, because of size and two, because no one or anything could stop him from playing ball at the highest level. Today, I love watching Antonio Brown play the game.
Being undersized, Livers had to work harder than anyone on the field and be more dedicated than anyone. The odds are always against a 5-7 player but being where he was from and what he came from he was prepared for the battle.
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Leader Johnson: What was it like growing up in Seaside, California?
Poppy Livers: Growing up in Seaside, California was rough. Lived in a small house with my mom, step dad and his son. Lots of drugs, gangs, and little things to try and get you off the right path. I used the boys and girls club and Monterey sports center as my escape to get away and be a kid and not worry about what color I was wearing a certain day. I chose being an athlete at a young age over choosing what gang I wanted to be a part of. I hated losing and still do. (laughs)
Leader Johnson: In the evolution of a great player, there is often a mother and father tell us about your mother and father and how they supported your football career?
Poppy Livers: My mom always supported anything I've done. I moved out of my house at the age of 14 to go to a private school in Mountain View and that was the hardest decision I ever made growing up - leaving home at a young age. Playing football was always tough for her to see me play, because so many of my friends got hurt and some even had to stop playing. To this day, she still tells me: "I wish you would just switch to basketball" (laughs) … as if it were that easy. Going into college is where my dad played a big role in making me feel comfortable and training me to be in the best shape for camp.
Leader Johnson: What did Coach Talley tell you about your future with Villanova and what did the staff like about you?
Poppy Livers: Well, walking-on, Coach Talley offered me that, and the rest was pretty much up to me. After my sophomore year, I earned his trust and respect to receive a scholarship and become the team captain my senior season! Coach Brian Flinn, my receiver coach, is one of the best out there. He is more than just a great receiver coach. He molds you into a tough receiver but also builds us into great young men. We are in contact every week to this day. He tells me "keep playing this game as long as you can”. He believes in me and is one of my biggest supporters today.
Leader Johnson: What positions did you play in high school?
Poppy Livers: I played receiver, running back, corner, safety and returner in high school.
It just seemed like the right move for Livers to choose a class program that focused on school and hard work. Villanova was the right place for a warrior from California. In his freshman year he became the first Wildcat since 1980 to return a punt for a score - returning one 66 yards against Georgia State and got his first “career high” by catching a pass for 63 yards against rival Delaware.
Leader Johnson: You came a long way from the west coast to the east coast. What impressed you about Villanova to make you make the jump?
Poppy Livers: I chose to walk on at ‘Nova because my grandfather was a great athlete at nova in basketball and track and i wanted to be the great football player to come out of ‘Nova.
Leader Johnson: What was your first play for the Wildcats like? Do you remember it?
Poppy Livers: My first play where I actually got the ball was on a sweep run. It was nice. Think it was a first down and it felt good to get hit for the first time in college.
Leader Johnson: Who was your toughest opponent in college?
Poppy Livers: Our toughest opponent we played against I would say was Temple my freshman year. Not because they were a bigger school but because we were so young and played 21 freshmen that game.
Leader Johnson: Mark Ferrante is taking over as coach what can you tell me about Coach Ferrante?
Poppy Livers: They couldn't have chose a better coach to take over the head position at Villanova when it comes to Coach Ferrante. Like he always tells me: "If I trained half as hard as him, I'll be a champion every year”. (Laughs) Great guy.
Leader Johnson: You had to wait your turn. How was it playing with guys like John Robertson and Kevin Monangai?
Poppy Livers: It was great playing with John and Kevin because a lot of attention was on them which opened up the gates for me to make an impact on our team and play a key role.
Livers would elevate his junior year with 53 receptions for 580 yards and 3 scores but his senior year was his breakout. As a Senior he caught 67 balls for 987 yards and 9 touchdowns while also rushing 7 times for 67 yards and fielding 17 punts for 129 yards and a touchdown. He was named second team All-CAA while serving as a Team Captain.
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Leader Johnson: Villanova puts out pro players with Tanoh Kpassagnon, Brad Seaton, Austin Calitro and recently, you. Why do you think Villanova can bring out guys who are under the radar? Tell me what Villanova teaches that makes their athletes so ready for the next level coming from the underrated circumstance they do.
Poppy Livers: Well, Villanova not only teaches us to be great football players, but to be great men, on and off the field. Playing football is just a small part of being a professional. Coach Talley always told us. "It's great to be important, but it's more important to be nice”. Having great character plays a huge part in being an elite athlete.
Leader Johnson: What was your best college game and greatest achievement?
Poppy Livers: I think I'll go with Syracuse in the Dome: first game of the season, last punt of the third quarter, I took it to the house - 67 yards to change the game … and made Sports Center top ten #2. That would go in front of my punt return against Georgia State that actually got me my scholarship. My greatest achievement would have to be being named captain after walking on the team and getting the trust of my teammates and coaches to lead a our football team to an 11-3 season my senior year.
Leader Johnson: How did the tryout with the Philadelphia Soul come about?
Poppy Livers: The tryout with the Soul came about long before I even went to the tryout. I played in the FCS bowl game in Miami, where coach Phil Bogle was the defensive coach on the team and I was always goofing around and asking him questions about me playing for the home team. (laughs) So this tryout was actually two years in the making because I ended up playing in Germany last year and winning a championship and Coach Bogle reached out to me again to come to the open tryout.
Leader Johnson: What do you think of Coach Clint Dolezel and the rest of the staff?
Poppy Livers: There is so much I can say about Coach Doze and the rest of the crew. These guys have really changed the way I view being a part of an organization. I mean college was great, but this team is really professional and we are one big family. #SoulFamily couldn't thank them enough for believing in me and having me be apart of the team. Every team needs a "little guy" (Laughs)
Leader Johnson: Have you had a chance to get close with any of the veteran Soul players?
Poppy Livers: I have because I'm close with pretty much everyone on the team. I mean, some players have families and other priorities, but we are all pretty close as a team!!
Leader Johnson: What has Coach Dolezel said about your role on this team?
Poppy Livers: He tells me to keep doing a great job and practice hard to get my teammates ready for battle and my time will come "little fella" (laughs) … his words.
Leader Johnson: What does Poppy Livers bring to the Soul?
Poppy Livers: Poppy Livers brings energy, dedication, hard work, and a little singing every now and then to the Philadelphia Soul.
Leader Johnson: Great talking to you, Poppy. ‘Nova Nation is wishing you great success!
Poppy Livers: Thank You.
Poppy Livers is not only a football player he is a man's man. For those who doubted him his best revenge was his success. Coming over from the west coast to play on the east coast. Coming up in a rough neighborhood and circumstances that would have made others turn the wrong route, he progressed. From freshman to his senior year he achieved. He is the true inspiration for those who are told they can’t. He went from being a walk-on to a team captain and from being a Villanova football great to playing professionally. Poppy Livers is a SUCCESS!
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