ALBANY —Extraordinary vision on the field is one thing football recruiters like about Cheyenne Labruzza.
Another kind of vision has carried the 17-year-old Albany High senior to where he is today and has opened a clear path to the future.
“I didn’t play football until I was in the seventh grade,” Labruzza said. “From the time I played my first game, I loved it and wanted to be good at it.
“So I set goals, and I started working. I’d work out at home and with the team. If I didn’t understand something, I’d ask questions. If there was something I couldn’t do, I worked until I did it.”
Albany coach Blane Westmoreland and others refer to the 6-foot, 185-pound cornerback/wingback as a “one-in-a million” type player. Labruzza is a four-year starter and four-year team captain. He’s committed to Tennessee as a cornerback and carries a 4.25 grade-point average.
“Cheyenne is the best kid. … You really can’t say enough good things about him,” said Stacy Darouse, Albany girls basketball coach. “He’s the person everyone at this school wants to be like, and it’s not because he’s the best football player. They see him for who he is and everything he’s accomplished.”
Few outside the close-knit Livingston Parish community know the other part of Labruzza’s story. His parents died before he was a teenager. Labruzza could have given up on his future, but he chose to succeed.
“Cheyenne has always been focused,” said Labruzza’s older brother, Tracy Parker. “It’s true, he’s been through a lot. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him show a lot of emotion with everything he’s gone through.
“He understands who he is and is a kid who always makes the right decisions, whether it’s on the field or in the classroom. He’s a born leader — people listen to him whether he’s on the field or in the classroom.”
Parker, 49, is more of a father figure. Labruzza has lived with Parker and his wife, Paula, since his parents died 11 months apart when he was beginning middle school as a fifth-grader.
Their father, Howard Parker Jr., died of lung cancer. Parker checked the youngster out of school several times to be with his father during chemotherapy.
“They were very close,” Parker said of Labruzza and their father. “Cheyenne was mature enough to handle it, and they talked a lot during that time. We talked too. I told him my family would always been there for him.”
When Labruzza’s mother, Tanya Labruzza, died months later of a heart attack, the youngster moved to Tracy Parker’s house on property the families shared. The household includes five teens between the ages of 14 and 18.
“My parents always stressed the importance of academics and school work,” Labruzza said. “As soon as I got home every day, my homework came first. That work ethic stays with me, along with my faith.
“I have family who cares for me. I don’t dwell on anything negative or let it get me down. Miss Paula (Labruzza’s aunt) is a strong Christian woman who believes your faith can carry you through anything. I believe that too.”
Of course, there’s faith, then there’s football. Tracy Parker played football at Albany, but it’s his oldest son, 30-year-old Jahesman, a former Hammond High player, who became Labruzza’s first sports mentor. Another cousin, Darius Booker, is another mentor/confidant.
There are others now, including former New Orleans Saints player J.J. McCleskey, who have helped raise Labruzza’s stature as a recruit.
“The thing with Cheyenne is the way he works,” Jahesman Parker said. “He believes if he’s not out there working, somebody else somewhere else is outworking him. He doesn’t want anybody to take his spot.
“I watched him in middle school and saw the talent there. Whenever he intercepted passes, he scored. Talent and his focus are tough things to beat. I told him he had a chance to be a top cornerback recruit, and he’s made that happen.”
Labruzza acknowledges a typical day starts with a 5 a.m. workout at home with push-ups, crunches and 60-yard dashes. He lifts weights each morning at school, practices and will put in more time, said Jahesman Parker, who played two years of junior college football.
The cousins, including Booker, started studying top cornerbacks, watching closely the players at nearby LSU, known as “D B U” during Labruzza’s middle-school years. Jahesman Parker said Labruzza lowered his 40-yard dash time before a camp at LSU last summer.
“The kid had never run a 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds, which he had to do at LSU,” Jahesman Parker said. “It wasn’t one of his strong points. But for two or three weeks, he focused and pushed himself. He got that 4.5, and he’s faster than that now.”
Labruzza says he runs the 40 in the 4.4-second range now. He caught the attention of the LSU coaches at that camp but ultimately opted to commit to Tennessee. Labruzza says he feels like he “fits” at Tennessee.
As a junior, opposing teams seldom threw Labruzza’s way. He had 46 tackles, four tackles for loss, 10 pass breakups and two interceptions.
Labruzza also rushed for 1,167 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 16 yards per carry. He had 396 receiving yards and four TDs.
Can Labruzza help carry Class 3A Albany, a school not known for football, to success and a playoff berth? Westmoreland is counting on a large senior group Labruzza leads.
“He’s a four-year starter and a four-year captain,” Westmoreland said. “Cheyenne has been a leader ever since he’s been here. This group is determined and focused. We’re going to cherish this time and relish it.”
The Hornets went 3-0 in a 7-on-7 league last week, including a couple of wins over Class 5A teams. Labruzza is excited about the strides his team has made after a 5-5 season in 2015.
“We want to change the way the players and people think about our school and football,” Labruzza said. “In the past when we lost, the players would drop their heads. Losing was accepted. I can’t do that. We can’t do it, so we’re working.”