Terps' Carroll Rises To Defense

Inspired By His Mother, Receiver-turned-cornerback Emerging As A Team Leader

July 27, 2009|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,jeff.barker@baltsun.com

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Nolan Carroll didn't get up for a few moments after the play ended. The Maryland wide receiver remained stretched out on the Boston College turf staring at his hands, which had betrayed him.

It was 2006, and Carroll, then a redshirt freshman, had just dropped a potential touchdown pass. He had two end zone drops in the 38-16 loss.

Those were the most trying moments of Carroll's career, and he still lowers his head when he recalls them.

"It was heartbreaking," he said Sunday during an interview at the Atlantic Coast Conference Football Kickoff, a two-day conference of coaches, top players and media.

But those drops would prove oddly beneficial, too, because they helped compel the diligent, soft-spoken Carroll - whose mother is the first and only black female Republican in Florida's state legislature - to switch to cornerback.

The fifth-year player enters the coming season as a leader of the pressing, blitzing defense that incoming defensive coordinator Don Brown is installing. The 4-3 defense, in which receivers are jammed at the line, will replace last season's zone-coverage approach of former coordinator Chris Cosh, now in a similar position at Kansas State. The season begins Sept. 5 at California.

"That [new] defense is something else, it's really something to behold," Terrapins quarterback Chris Turner said Sunday. "It's totally different from what we've done in the past."

Carroll is not the first Maryland receiver to switch to defense - current safeties Terrell Skinner and Kenny Tate both started as receivers.

But Carroll's switch was unusual because it was prompted by the player and resisted, although only mildly, by head coach Ralph Friedgen.

With the Boston College memory still fresh in his mind, Carroll, 6 feet 1, 202 pounds, approached Friedgen in his office after the season, telling him his speed and strength were well suited to the secondary. Carroll, from Green Cove Springs, Fla., had played offense and defense in high school. "He was kind of hesitant at first" to go along, Carroll said of Friedgen. "He said, 'You know, you're coming in as a starter in the spring.' " Friedgen relented.

Not all redshirt freshmen would have made such a bold request. Carroll said he drew inspiration from his mother, Jennifer Carroll. In 2003, she became the first black female Republican elected to the Florida House of Representatives, where she still serves. She had a Navy career before that.

"Throughout my military career I was usually the only or the first black female, particularly in aviation," she said. "When I did win the election, it was a milestone. And that puts pressure on you because people are looking up to you."

She said her son, a family sciences major who is the oldest of three children, has always been assertive, but in a quiet way. He was reminded by Maryland officials to speak loudly Sunday, as he and Turner sat in a hotel conference room in shorts and red polo shirts while answering questions.

Said the younger Carroll: "When I wanted to make the move [to corner], I kind of felt myself becoming my mom. I was always kind of a laid-back guy, not speaking up. But I said [to Friedgen]: 'This is how I'm feeling.' "

Carroll's switch seems to have worked. After playing in all 13 games as a reserve cornerback in 2007, he got four starts last season and an ankle injury prevented him from starting more.

The cameras of Terrapins Rising - the team's spring-practice reality show - captured Carroll's teammates howling and jumping up and down as Carroll pressed and jammed junior receiver Emani Lee-Odai at the line, disrupting his rhythm.

"Nolan likes to get up under your face," Turner said Sunday. "He'll be aggressive with you all the way down the field, and he has the speed to back it up."

Note: : Maryland is the only ACC school that isn't producing a media guide for this season. Maryland said information about the team will be available online. It said the team's Web site will be upgraded and will include more video than in the past.

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