Because he didn’t participate in sports until the 6th grade Cheyenne Labruzza never got the opportunity to share with his parents a passion for athletics that would ultimately become a driving force in his life.
When Labruzza – who completed a trend-setting football career at Albany High – signed a national letter of intent with Tennessee on Wednesday, it was another chapter in his tribute to his late parents and also represents the realization of a goal.
“I know they’ll be looking down and smiling,” Labruzza said of his parents Howard Parker Jr. and Tanya Labruzza, who passed away 11 months apart when he was 12 year old.
The opportunity for the community of Albany to host such an event is regarded as a landmark achievement.
Albany’s normally maroon-and-white clad campus had more of a distinct orange hue, commemorating Labruzza’s big day when he signed with the orange-clad Volunteers amid family, friends, classmates and teammates.
“It’s awesome for all of us to be a part of it,” Albany football coach Blane Westmoreland said. “It’s not every day our community pumps out Power-5 (conference) athletes in any sport. To have someone ultimately go to the SEC is special for us as a school and community.”
Part of Labruzza’s wardrobe included a Tennessee jacket and hat.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “I’ve waited a long time and worked every day for this. It’s something I always dreamed about and envisioned; a goal I worked hard for. To finally accomplish it is a great feeling. But I know I’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
Westmoreland said there was a steady stream of college coaches representing the SEC, Big 10 and Big 12 – along with all in-state schools – that made Albany a regular stop on the recruiting trail following Labruzza’s junior year.
By then, after eye-popping performances at some the of the nation’s top prospect camps, Labruzza was no longer a hidden gem in a town tucked between Denham Springs and Hammond.
“You could tell there was something there, he had that drive,” Westmoreland said. “He got more looks and at the end of his junior year, it just blew up.”
Labruzza, the 2016 All-Livingston Parish Defensive Co-MVP, found quizzical looks on the faces of fellow competitors at some of the camps he attended when they asked about his hometown.
“You go outside of Albany and no one knows where it is,” he said. “When I told people I was from Albany, they wanted to know if it really was in Louisiana.”
The 6-foot, 187-pound Labruzza has literally put Albany on the college recruiting map, earning 3-star status from 24/7 Sports as the nation’s No. 44 cornerback and state’s No. 20 overall prospect.
Labruzza’s not impressed, though, vowing to continue his trademark all-out effort to show the type of passion that’s became a symbol of his rise to stardom.
“It was a long, high climb,” Labruzza said of his origin. “I started from the bottom.”
With the loss of his parents less than a year apart, Labruzza never lost sight of his objective to become a standout in athletics and shining example in the classroom.
Labruzza’s older brother Tracy Parker and wife took him in, maintaining the same ideals as Labruzza’s parents with a strict work ethic and belief system that have served as the foundation on his success throughout his formative years.
“Everything I do, I want to be the best,” said Labruzza, who has a 4.1 grade-point average. “My parents did a great job of raising me and my brother continued that. I didn’t want to be an average athlete or student. I’ve strived to be both.”
The final season in Labruzza’s career mirrored that of his upbringing, displaying the capacity to persevere through adversity, when he missed the latter half of the year with a season-ending knee injury.
Labruzza managed to earn Class 3A All-State honorable mention honors, accounting for 744 yards and 9 touchdowns on offense in six games. He registered 26 tackles with one fumble recovery and one forced fumble.
Despite an early commitment to Tennessee last April 16, college coaches continued to file through Albany during the fall in an attempt to shake Labruzza loose from his pledge to the Vols.
Labruzza ended any speculation of a potential change of heart, cancelling a scheduled official visit Jan. 13 to LSU three days in advance, reaffirming his intention to sign with Tennessee where he took an official visit on Jan. 20 – setting the stage for Wednesday’s signing day.
“It couldn’t happen to a better kid young man,” Westmoreland said. “He was a leader for us on and off the field, but unfortunately, we’ve got to say good-bye at this point. We lose a great player, but we have an ambassador to our school and community.”