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Sun Devil strong: Former football player, coach celebrates 100th birthday

Cavalcade of ASU greats feted Larry Kentera during ASU celebration

Former ASU player and coach Larry Kentera at his 100th birthday celebration

Former ASU football player Kevin Miniefield presents Larry Kentera with a letterman's jacket at his 100th birthday celebration. Kentera played for ASU in the late 1940s and was an assistant under Frank Kush for 11 years. Photo by Tim Trumble

April 30, 2024

Larry Kentera shook his head and smiled.

All around him, inside the San Tan Ford Club at Mountain America Stadium, a who’s who of Arizona State football greats had congregated.

Danny White.

Michael Haynes.

Bob Breunig.

J.D. Hill.

D.J. Foster.

Joe Spagnolo.

So many, you couldn’t throw a pitchfork without hitting a player who is in ASU’s Sports Hall of Fame. They were all there to honor Kentera, the former Sun Devil player and assistant coach who celebrated his 100th birthday on April 17.

“This is great, just great,” said Kentera as he looked around at the 350 people gathered for the party. “It’s something, you know, you can’t replace it.”

For more than two hours, Kentera, who played for the Sun Devils from 1947–49 and was an assistant coach under Frank Kush from 1967–78 (including seven years as a defensive coordinator), was feted by former players and coaches.

The celebration included a video message from Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who was the offensive line coach under Kentera at Northern Arizona University in 1986.

“You are the true century man,” Reid said. “What an accomplishment that is. … I learned a ton from you. You were tough on players, real tough, but they respected you and loved you. It was a great lesson that I could take into my coaching career.”

Current ASU coach Kenny Dillingham stopped by to wish Kentera well and say the crowd’s size was testament to Kentera’s ability to build and hold on to relationships.

“That’s what makes football so special,” Dillingham said. “I mean, we have 14 official (recruits) coming out there today, and I wanted to make sure I came over here because this is what it’s all about. It’s about the community.

“You have a coach that’s impactful, and he brings together people beyond the game. … Also, I wanted to make sure everybody in here knows I’m a Sun Devil. I want to keep people engaged in this program. I think events like this is the definition of how everybody in Arizona State is hungry to get involved. And I want everybody here to know it’s an open door for you.”

More than 350 people, including Sun Devil football greats, came out to honor Larry Kentera for his 100th birthday
More than 350 people came out for Larry Kentera's 100th birthday celebration. Photo by Tim Trumble

Kentera’s former players lauded the man they nicknamed “Thunder” because his booming voice could be heard all over the practice field.

“His personality was infectious,” said Ron Pritchard, an all-American linebacker for ASU in 1968. “He was just wired all the time. That’s one of the reasons he’s going to live until he’s 135. His wiring will still be working. He’s just a good guy.”

The players said Kentera struck the ideal balance as a coach. He was demanding but fair, insistent on getting every detail right while at the same time creating an atmosphere in which the Sun Devils enjoyed being on the field and around him.

“He always had something tough and stern to say, but always with a little jest to it,” Steve Matlock, a guard on ASU’s teams in the early 1970s, said. “He had an incredible sense of humor.”

Matlock said his favorite memory of Kentera was walking with him across the field for the goal line session that would end every Thursday practice.

“We’d walk from one side of the field to the other, and because he ran the defense he would just constantly be chirping at me, ‘Matlock, today is the day we’re going to get your a--.’ It was hilarious,” Matlock recalled.

That gruff sense of humor made Kentera the perfect complement to Kush, whose unrelenting ways could wear on players.

“Coach Kush would go off on players,” said Mike Haynes, a two-time all-American cornerback for ASU in the mid-1970s. “And then when we would get away from Kush, coach Kentera would tell us, ‘Oh, just forget about that. Just forget about it.’ And we did.”

“Coach Kush was very tough and strong, and there were times he’d be extra tough,” added Bob Breunig, an all-American linebacker at ASU. “Coach Kentera would come in and smooth some of the intensity going on. I think coach Kush appreciated coach Kentera’s ability to soothe the players a little bit, to say, ‘Everything is going to be alright. It will be fine.’”

In a “My Sun Devil Story” video he did for ASU when he was 99 years old, Kentera reminded everyone of what truly matters for Sun Devil football.

“One thing is bred in us,” he said. “We do not like the University of Arizona. I’m going to keep moving and keep rooting for the Sun Devils forever.”

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