Mids' Carthan not in mood to celebrate 4-2 start

Linebacker stays intense despite left ankle injury

College Football

October 16, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Navy had just beaten rival Air Force for the first time in seven years, and in the midst of the post-game party enveloping the team at FedEx Field in Landover, coach Paul Johnson noticed one of his co-captains looked strangely unhappy.

Then again, that was nothing new for outside linebacker Eddie Carthan, who always has been as reserved as he is talented, as dedicated to performing at a high level as he is unemotional. And Carthan, hobbled by nagging injuries that were affecting his play, was in a sour mood.

"Everybody was celebrating. Eddie was down," Johnson said. "When I asked him what was wrong, he said he must have gotten knocked down 40 times, and how could he feel good when he had been cut [down by opposing blockers] so many times?

"Eddie is a great kid, a different kid, extremely quiet, really hard on himself. I think he's got the right approach. He's a little deeper than some kids."

Carthan is not a surly guy. He is not aloof. He prefers to wear a poker face that hides his feelings, and his insides have been churning lately. Ever since he got clipped during a 39-7 victory over Eastern Michigan nearly four weeks ago, Carthan has been slowed by a sprained left ankle. He also has been bothered by tendinitis in his right knee.

It's not that Carthan isn't pleased by Navy's 4-2 start, its best beginning since 1996. But the 5-foot-11, 218-pound senior from the small, southern Georgia town of Donalsonville does not feel he has contributed enough to date.

"I still haven't gotten to the point where it's fun yet. Now that I have a bum ankle, I'm not good for much of anything, except going out there and fighting," said Carthan, who ranks sixth on the team with 29 tackles and has added two sacks, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

"Hopefully, we can string together some more wins, and maybe I can start to get some joy out of it. My thing is just stay grounded."

Sheila Brown, Carthan's mother, said Eddie has always been down to earth in a way that makes him seem wise beyond his years.

Growing up in a town with no movie theater or bowling alley and a recreation center that fell into disrepair, he watched associates get into trouble with the law but avoided those snags at every turn. He shrugged off the "Mama's boy" taunts he sometimes heard by honoring her curfew impositions, refusing to touch alcohol and regularly making the honor roll at school.

On the playing field, Carthan was a bundle of competitive spirit from the get-go. Sheila recalled him "running all over the boys" as a soccer player in the second grade. He let his fiery side show when he put on a baseball uniform.

"You didn't have to pump him up to get him to play his best. I remember him going crazy when he knocked the ball out of the park the first time when he was 14. He always loved sports and loved to win," said Sheila, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and has worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 17 years.

"He's got a sense of what he wants, and he doesn't let his peers' opinions deter him. He's very mature for his age. He believes in paying his dues."

Carthan also believes in not taking a day off. A year after becoming the heart of Navy's defense as a junior, when he finished second on the team with 74 tackles and led the team with eight tackles for losses, he probably should have skipped numerous practices to let himself heal after injuring his ankle.

But after missing two workouts before a 48-27 loss at Rutgers on Sept. 27, Carthan will have no more of that. He waved off a recent suggestion by linebackers coach Keith Jones to wear a red jersey to signal that he is off limits to contact in practice.

"I didn't like [Carthan] at first, thought he was a snooty-type of guy. Then I got to know him," Jones said. "He has everyone's respect on the field, in the film room. He knows his stuff. He's all business. He plays hard every down. He enjoys the wins, but it will be fun for him when we finish the mission."

Carthan will feel much better when he's closer to healthy - he had 13 tackles and two interceptions in the first two games before the ankle injury - and was able to use his 4.6-second, 40-yard dash speed as a pursuit weapon in Navy's much-improved, 3-4 defense. He understands the excitement surrounding the team, but is taking a measured, wait-and-see stance.

"When you win three games in three years, it makes it tough," Carthan said. "I kind of feel like a dad, because the only thing I want is for us to keep doing well, so [the classes of] '06 and '07 don't have to go through the same thing we [seniors] went through.

"It's no real big deal to me whether we go to a bowl game or not. If this class gets a chance to be part of something good and helps Navy get things turned around, that's good enough for me."

Next for Navy

Matchup: Navy (4-2) vs. Rice (1-4)

Site: Rice Stadium, Houston

When: Saturday, 3 p.m.

Radio: WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)

Line: Navy by 3 1/2

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