Carr's career swerved when University of Portland needed a point guard

Ravens cornerback had hoped to play college basketball but had his scholarship yanked for another player

December 11, 2010|By Kevin Van Valkenburg, The Baltimore Sun

There was a time, many years ago, when Chris Carr did not particularly care if his football career ended.

He doesn't mind talking about it. Carr finds it fascinating, in fact, to contemplate the role that fate played in steering him toward the present.

You can make a pretty convincing case that he's been the Ravens best cornerback this season, and that he's exceeded everyone's expectations this year — except his own — with how consistently he's played. But getting here required a bit of random luck both the Ravens and Carr can be thankful for.

Carr was a high school senior in Reno, Nevada, when it happened. In a city often referred to as the "Biggest little town in the world," the 5-foot-9 Carr was easily the biggest little star on the football field. His final season at Robert McQueen High School, he rushed for 1,944 yards and scored 34 touchdowns. He was named Nevada's Player of the Year.

He did not, however, have much affection for the game. Carr preferred basketball, with its fluid moments of artistry and grace. Boise State University and the University of Nevada had each offered him football scholarships, but he was leaning toward accepting an offer to play point guard for the University of Portland basketball team.

A college scholarship, Carr believed, was just a way to pay for school, anyway. He wasn't banking on making it as a professional athlete. The thought hadn't even occurred to him.

"In Reno, I'd never seen anyone make it to the NFL or the NBA, so I never thought 'Oh, he did that so I can too,' " Carr said.

He was going to college to get an education, and possibly prepare for law school. He wanted to spend four years playing a game he loved instead of one felt indifferent toward.

Except it wouldn't work out that way.

"That summer, my best friend and I were both offered scholarships to the University of Portland, and we verbally committed," he said. "Then two weeks later, they called me and said their point guard had dropped out of school. They needed the scholarship that year so they could sign a guy from Australia (Adam Quick). I was devastated. After that, I was like 'Ok, I guess I'll play football.'"

Where would Carr be today if that point had not unexpectedly left school? Maybe in a courtroom, arguing Constitutional law. He'd like to believe that, at least. But he certainly would not be preparing to face the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football as a member of the Baltimore Ravens.

"I think would have been at peace with it," Carr said. "But it's kind of hard to think about how different my life would be. At my best friend's wedding three years ago, the guy from Australia was there. I was like 'Man, thank God for you, because without you, I wouldn't be in the NFL right now. I wouldn't have met my wife either.' "

Several of the themes in that story have been repeated throughout Carr's career. At Boise State, he fell in love with football for the first time, and saw there was an art to breaking down the game cerebrally and strategically. He immediately excelled, starting 12 games as a freshman, even though there were doubts about his size.

Back then, the Broncos weren't the BCS-busting mid-major powerhouse we all know them as today, but they were on their way to becoming it thanks to players such as Carr, who developed into one of the best punt returners and defensive backs in the NCAA by his fourth year. But when Carr broke his collarbone knocking down a pass early in his senior season, he again began to plan for a life after sports. He took the LSAT and applied to law schools. He wasn't invited to the NFL combine. On draft weekend, no one thought he was worthy of a draft pick. When the Oakland Raiders signed him as a free agent, he seemed like a long shot to even make the team.

"Once I got there, though, it was really apparent that I was good enough," Carr said. "We started playing and I was like 'I didn't get drafted and he did?' It's funny because whenever I would do something well, people would act surprised."

Getting signed by the Raiders was another fortuitous break because the team had not been very good and there were openings on the depth chart. In three years, Carr established himself as an excellent kick returner and nickleback, and then didn't have to stick around for years of losing. The Tennessee Titans signed him to a 1-year, $2 million offer sheet, and the Raiders didn't match it.

"It was fortunate because I got to learn from a great coach like Rob Ryan, but I also had a short contract so I could get the hell out of Oakland," Carr said.

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