When Largent was nine, his mother, Sue, remarried, and Largent's life was turned upside down again. His stepfather, John Cargill, had a job in the civil service, and during a two-year period Steve moved four times. "I never had any close friends," Largent says. "I never felt like I belonged."
In the spring of 1969, when Steve was in the ninth grade, the family was in Oklahoma City. But Largent wasn't happy. "There was no way to establish myself in school," he says. "In the past there had always been sports. But at that time of year there was no football.
"I wasn't a part of the In crowd. I wasn't handsome. I wasn't popular. I was a nerd. My hair was all frizzy, and that wasn't cool. So I'd get up real early in the morning, comb it in one direction, let it dry, then comb it in the other direction. There was a tremendous amount of pressure to fit in. And I was in a lot of pain." He gravitated to what he calls "the cynical, life's-been-bad-to-me crowd," and he got into some minor trouble.
"Once, I was sent to the vice-principal's office and told to be at school early the next morning for three licks," Largent recalls. "Well, that was the worst. I had to wait all night. So I decided to stick my knee pads in the seat of my pants to protect myself. Whack! The vice-principal looked at me funny. Whack again! Finally he said, 'What have you got in your pants?' Then I really got it."
In hopes of straightening him out, his mother and stepfather encouraged Steve to go out for the football team in his sophomore year. But when he decided to sign up, he found that at least 140 other kids had the same idea. He went home dejected. His mother urged him to go back. He tried out at halfback but failed. "The coach gave me [some handoffs] and told me I wasn't quick enough," Largent says. "That's how long it took him to assess my ability."
So he was sent over to where the wide receivers were practicing. "The lines weren't as long," he says. There he met coach Gene Abney, a large, gruff man with a short temper. Abney drilled him in the hot Oklahoma sun until he was ready to drop. Largent loved it. "If there was something I did well, like diving for a catch, he praised me," Largent says. "Man, I went all out. He drove me till my tongue was hanging, but I didn't care. Positive feedback was all I needed."
Meanwhile, life at home was becoming unbearable. Largent says his stepfather was drinking heavily—Cargill maintains he was drinking only occasionally—and Steve's mother asked the teenager to be the peacemaker. "I can remember a ham being thrown across the kitchen," Largent says. "My mom would come to me crying and say, 'What should I do?' And I'd think, I don't know. I'm only in 10th grade."
At about that time he met Terry Bullock in his Latin II class. She was a straight-A student, Putnam City High Pirates cheerleader, popular, pretty and selected by her classmates as Miss Pirateer. Steve told her she had "the best looking legs" in the school and asked her to go to the sophomore class picnic. She said yes, but Steve never showed up because his friend's car broke down.
In his junior year Steve asked her to a sock hop in the gymnasium after a football game. Again Terry said yes. "But she waited inconspicuously for me outside the door," Steve says.
"I didn't want anybody to know if you stood me up again," Terry says.