Derek Carr was one of the most productive quarterbacks in college football this past year and did it while suffering from a sports hernia, leading Fresno State to its first Mountain West Conference Title after joining the league in 2012 and its first conference title since they won the WAC Title in 1999. Carr has the opportunity this year to be one of the top quarterbacks in the 2014 NFL draft and we discussed his career so far, battling the injury, the influence of his brother David as well as why he wears the #4.
Peter Smith: You were recruited by LSU, USC, Notre Dame, and Alabama among other schools, why did you choose Fresno State?
Derek Carr: During the whole recruiting process, it was crazy; it’s hectic being recruited by those schools like that, having hand written letters from Les Miles and coaches like that. The whole time, I was really just waiting for Fresno State to call. My coaches, my teammates, my friends thought I was crazy at points, but Fresno is where my heart is. I don’t pay attention to the big school, small school stuff. I wanted to go to Fresno State and win a championship. Hopefully, we’ll go out and win a championship this year.
PS: Most people don’t know that you played with a sports hernia last year. What were the options given to you when it was diagnosed and why did you ultimately choose the route you did?
DC: The route I chose, to say the least, was very painful. I had the injury probably the week before the first game. It wasn’t too bad the first game, but playing on it, it got worse and worse as the year went on. If I would have had surgery before the season, I could have missed anywhere from six games all the way up to the whole season. That wasn’t worth the risk to me. We kept it under control, limiting what I did in practice, limiting what I did in the weight room because you can’t go out there and work as hard as you can in the weight room and expect to go out to be good on Saturday because it hurt to walk at some points through the week. If I would have had the surgery, I would have missed the whole year, which was not an option for me. I just dealt with it. We kept it away from the media; that way it wasn’t a distraction to the team the whole year. I am all about the team. I just want to win games and that’s all I’ve wanted to do my whole life. I wanted to keep the distractions limited and just play through the injury and bring it up at the end of the year.
PS: What were you going through on a weekly basis playing with it? For example, in the Hawaii Bowl, you had 280lb Margus Hunt chasing you down. How do you battle through that, stay up, and keep going with that? And do you feel like you’ve developed any bad habits this past year as a result of playing with the injury that you need to hammer out this year as far as fundamentals and technique?
DC: Of course, playing against that guy (Hunt); that guy was a great player. He took control of that whole football game. We ended up throwing for close to 370 yards that game with him still getting into our backfield. He was a great player. He just really took the game over singlehandedly. They knew we had to throw it when we were down late and he was able to take advantage.
Going through the whole year with it (sports hernia), I couldn’t sneeze without taking a knee. But it’s just one of those things that you had to deal with and play through. It was definitely hard on a week to week basis because it limited what I did in practice. To me, practice is where you get ready for the game, so it was hard on me emotionally and mentally, let alone physically how much it hurt.
PS: You ultimately went with the surgery. How are you feeling now?
DC: Oh, I feel great now. If we had a game today, I would be 100%. Full go, ready to go. The surgery was a great idea. Dr. Smith, he did a great job. The recovery time for the surgery that he did, he does it a little bit different. The recovery time that we had was phenomenal. I was ready to go, but we kept things in the Spring limited, because we know we gotta get ready for the Fall; that’s more important.
PS: Despite the hernia, you managed to improve across the board with your efficiency, so what do you expect this year healthy?
DC: The sky’s the limit. I’ve been so blessed that I was able to play through the injury that I did last year. Guys like Greg Jennings of the Vikings now; he played with it last year with the Packers and he ended up getting the surgery because he couldn’t do it. Of course, he plays a different position than me, but I was blessed to be able to play through it and have a great year. Maybe there were some times where I physically couldn’t do the mechanics that I wanted to, but that’s just a part of it. I think it was more important last year to show my toughness, so when people found out I played through it, that was a good thing. Going into this year, healthy, hopefully it stays that way, just looking to improve on anything that I can. I’m my hardest critic when it comes to critiquing myself, so whatever I think I need to improve on, that’s what I’m doing this offseason. I never stop working hard. You never reach the top. Peyton Manning is always learning something, always getting better, so that’s how I take it to my game.
PS: So, the message you want to get out there to college football and the NFL is that you’re tougher than Greg Jennings?
DC: No, no, no, no. He (Jennings) plays a totally different position. He has to run more. Being able to play quarterback was a blessing; that’s the message (laughs). I didn’t really have to run as much as he did and plant and cut and stuff like that. I was just saying that I was blessed that I was able to play and our training staff did such a great job.
PS: Where are you looking to improve both for Fresno State this year and going forward?
DC: Just doing what I’ve been doing since I got here. Every year, I’d go through the season and then whatever my coaches told me to get better at, I worked on in the offseason. I’d work my tail off to do that, so coming off of last year, I sat down with Coach (Dave) Schramm and we went over things to get better at and we went over those things. Now that I’m healthy, getting back to old mechanics. There were times in games where I couldn’t physically step into throws. There were times where things like that would happen. Getting back down to the basics, cleaning some things up; I can’t say I wasn’t terrible sometimes last year, but sometimes my mechanics would get off because of certain things I was dealing with due to the injury. But getting back to those things my sophomore year, getting back to who I am and just putting those two together.
PS: What are your goals for this year? Is there something you feel needs to happen this year that will make you feel like you accomplished what you wanted as a quarterback?
DC: Honestly, when I came to Fresno, I wanted to win a Championship. We got to do that. That was my #1 goal. And so, when that happened, I had to make some new ones. So going into this year, teamwise, we have the talent coming back to win every game. We want to go out and win every game and be that BCS buster story from the Mountain West like Boise State was or has been for the last couple years, so we want to be that team. The sky’s the limit. There are some things we want to go out there, like I want to win the Heisman Trophy for our school, for our program; the main reason is for my brother (David) because I thought he deserved it his senior year. So, I never do anything for my own benefit or my glory. I’m very faithful, so I do it for God first and then want to win some things for my brother as well.
PS: What does the Mountain West Title mean to you and the team?
DC: It had been (1999) since we won a championship. There had been a lot of great players, first round picks, NFL players that came here and didn’t get the opportunity to win one. And so, for our team, for our seniors like Phillip Thomas and Robbie Rouse, it meant a lot to them. It meant so much to the old guys that came back for that last game and told us how proud they were of us to do it, because it means a lot to this city. That’s the main reason why I came here was to bring this city a championship and do me very best to help the team win. We got to do that, so we were very happy as a program, but now we’ve set the bar to where that’s what we’re supposed to do every year. Hopefully, we’ll be able to put that in recruits’ heads and get them here and get guys that normally wouldn’t come here to come here.
PS: You and the team were able to win the Mountain West Title but you did have the loss against in the Hawaii Bowl. What was the feeling coming off the field after that game? Does it stay with you as you prepare for this season?
DC: I try and get over things. It stinks when it’s the last game of the year because you don’t have a game the next week to make up for some of the mistakes you may have made in that game. I just remember leaving that field I gave it everything I had; maybe too much, tried to do too much at some points. When we got off that field after that game, it was sad, but at the same time, that was over with and we had to realize that we did win a conference championship. This year isn’t a bust just because SMU gave it to us in our last game. The year, last year, was a success, but there are things we want to get better at as a program. We want to win the bowl game at the end of the year, so that Mountain West Championship feels a little bit better after that last game.
PS: Who was more excited about finding out that you were going to the Hawaii Bowl? You or your wife?
DC: (Laughs) My wife, 100%. She was definitely more excited. She loves the beach, so she was definitely more excited but I wasn’t too far behind her.
PS: What would a Bowl win mean to you and Fresno State in your last year?
DC: It would mean a lot. It really would. To be honest though, with the Conference Championship game now in the Mountain West Conference, the championship would mean more; that would mean a lot more to us as a team and as a program, but to be able to finish the year with a win, in whatever bowl game it was, would feel a lot better after winning the championship.
PS: Did you submit your name to the Draft Advisory Board?
DC: Yea, we did. Yea, we did do that.
PS: Were you considering declaring or using it as a measuring stick for where you rank with the NFL Draft?
DC: Kinda both. I was very interested to hear what they said and when we got it back, everything looked good. My dream has always been to play in the NFL and to be an NFL quarterback. So to hear what those people thought, that meant a lot. That was kind of cool. But again, you only get to play college football one time. I didn’t really want to leave on too bad of a note with that SMU game like we were talking about; it just left a sour taste in my mouth. Being able to come back, I love my teammates and the coaches that we have here and so I was really excited to come back for my senior year and try and do something more than we did last year. It was definitely a thought. We didn’t know what was going to happen, but one day I sat down and talked it over with my wife and we figured it out after that.
PS: If I mention the New Mexico game from this past year, what comes to mind?
DC: Oh, man, comeback. That New Mexico game, we had to come back; I think they were up 21-nothing. We had, I think, a couple three and outs in a row to start the game. I just remember some of our young guys stepping up like Davante Adams, Isaiah Burse, he’s an older guy but he stepped up big time. All I remember from that game is it was a big come back and not at one point did any of us feel were going to lose that game. We were even keel the whole time and that’s the mark of a good team.
PS: Is that the one game that stands out to you in your career or is there another one that jumps out at you? San Diego State, Air Force, or Hawaii even though you only played the first half against them?
DC: There’s so many; playing Colorado, a PAC-12 school and doing what we did against them was cool. I think Air Force, being able to have an efficient game and being able to hold up the trophy after the game. I think that’s the one that sticks out the most. Running around the stadium and high-fiving all of the fans that stayed to watch us celebrate. San Diego State, again, breaking records in that game for the conference and the school, that one sticks out too, but my buddy Leon McFadden (3rd round pick of the Cleveland Browns in this year’s draft), he picked me off and took it to the house, so that one left a sour taste. And I make sure I text him and let him know that all the time, but we got him back with a touchdown. He’s a good player, he really is.
PS: Is there one achievement or accomplishment that you’ve received that stands out above the rest?
DC: I think the coolest one; the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year was cool. To be thought of by the opposing coaches in that sense, that was cool. Being Sports Illustrated All-American; you always dream of that as a little kid. But the coolest one, to me, has to be winning the Bulldog of the Year Award, which is for all of the student athletes at our school, for every sport. I won the male Bulldog of the Year Award and that was for academics, community service, and on the field things. It’s a pretty sweet, 50lb Bulldog trophy, so I think that one is my favorite, because it represented all of the aspects of life.
PS: What did Robbie Rouse mean to the team last year and what does losing him take away from the team this year?
DC: He’s special and he plays for the Browns, so they got a special player with Robbie. He meant a lot to our football team; he’s a great leader. He’s a great teammate and a great friend. He was in my wedding, so that just says what kind of person he is. He was a great person to me the whole time. We came in the same year. Great player, great person, very competitive. What it does for the running back group now that it means they will be more competitive, because now they know they can actually get some carries (laughs). With Robbie, they knew Robbie was going to take 99% of the carries. Now it makes them more competitive, makes them push more; we’ve got five guys, we got a freshman coming in, that are all going to compete for it during training camp. We’re not going to skip a beat; the offense will stay the same. We’re definitely going to miss Robbie, but you can’t look back. We’ve got to keep moving on and we’ve got five guys that can come in and play.
PS: What does he bring to an NFL team?
DC: His sheer competitiveness; since I’ve known him, everyone says he’s too little. And all he’s done since everyone was telling him he’s too little is break records, be our career all-time leading rusher, and say he put his stamp on the program to say, “I’m the best running back to every play here.” When we would work out in the offseason, the two of us would go against each other whenever we had drills, we would go against each other. And it’s back and forth every time, whether it’s running, whether it’s agility drills, speed work, we’re out there just competing our butts off trying to beat each other every day. That’s what he does, he does it every day. He’s a great leader and I guarantee whatever team he’s on, it means the world to him. And he’s not going to let his opportunity slip. I guarantee whenever he gets his first playing time, he’ll show that he’s special.
PS: Davante Adams led the team in catches, yards, and touchdowns while having a great year as a redshirt freshman. What was he able to do to make you trust him to get him the ball so often?
DC: His redshirt year, I remember telling Coach (Pat) Hill, just joking around with him, I said, “Coach Hill, you should let him play; you know, he’s not going to be here the whole time,” joking around like that, because I thought he was special then. Davante, he’s a great player. He works hard, which is all you can ask. He’s got all the talent, all the God-given ability, and he works hard, so that’s one thing that drew my eyes closer to him because he works so hard. Usually, when guys don’t work hard, you don’t pay much attention to them, but he works his butt off to get better. He wants to be the best as well and that’s what I love about him. His competitive drive that he wants to be the best guy out there just like I do.
PS: You have talked about how much you admire your brother, David, but there is an eleven year age difference between the two of you and when he was entering into his senior year, you would have been in fourth or fifth grade. Talk about your relationship with him and the impact he’s been able to have on you and your career.
DC: He’s had a huge impact. I’ve been able to learn things; after my sophomore to my junior year, I think, is where I made the most gain from learning from him, because everything started making more sense. I started understanding football more. I started sitting there and really understanding what he was saying. We sat down after my sophomore year, watched every game, and he taught me things. We watched the hardest game my sophomore year; we watched the Boise game. We turned that one on because they ran some coverages, I wasn’t fooled by them, but some things I hadn’t seen before. And so I wanted to sit down and said, “Break this down for me.” And just things that he taught me, sitting there, I never forgot them. When I went into this year, leverages, fronts, defense tilted this way, rotation, just things that he taught me, you know, personnel, who’s in the game? What are they thinking? Just doing that made this year a lot more efficient for me. Whenever I made a decision with the football, I had a purpose for it, whereas my sophomore year, I thought I could fit everything into tight windows. My junior year, last year, I think the biggest thing he taught me was don’t be an idiot, on and off the field. On the field, don’t make stupid decisions; have a purpose for everything. And then off the field of course, don’t be an idiot and that’s self-explanatory.
PS: Is there a competition between you two?
DC: Oh yea. Me and both of my brothers, we’re the most competitive people I’ve ever met, I’ve ever been around. We will really not talk to each other for a whole day because of a Madden game. We’ll go out and play Golf and bet pushups on it and whoever loses does pushups on the green after that. We’re always competing. We’re always racing in the back yard, who can lift this weight more? We’re always competing. I think that’s what I take in the most from both of my brothers is that we’re all so competitive.
PS: I hope that when it comes to doing pushups, lifting weights and that stuff, I hope your brother Darren (Had a brief career at Defensive Tackle for the University of Houston) had an advantage in that area.
DC: (Laughs) He’s definitely a lot bigger than us, so when we do those, we just did that talk trash but he ends up beating us.
PS: You wear #4 in honor of Brett Favre. I had no idea when I did my scouting report that this was the case, but you can tell which quarterbacks watched Favre growing up with the improvisation with the football. What is it about Favre that makes you look up to him?
DC: Oh yea, Brett Favre; he is so fun to watch. If you watch him, you’d think he’s 12 years old every game that he plays. He just looks like he’s having so much fun and enjoying life. That’s the first thing that ever drew me into him and the next thing was giving the coach headaches and making my receivers happy. That’s the fun part to me. I always have reasons for where I throw the football. Some windows are tighter than others, but when they work out, I heard Brett say one time, when they work out, everyone loves you for it. He won a Super Bowl, so I liked what he said when he said that. He’s a great leader, great teammate; I knew his receivers loved him for how he played. As long as your teammates love you and you’re doing things to the best of your ability, not going against what your coach thinks, that’s what I loved about him.
PS: I imagine you’ve seen clips of him with Mike Holmgren and those moments of ‘No, no, no, no, yes!’ type plays. Have you had any of those throws with Coach DeRuyter?
DC: It’s more so with Coach Schramm, my offensive coordinator. There’s been times where I’ve thrown balls and he’ll say “What are you doing?!” and then all of a sudden will complete it. I remember coming off the field after a series against Hawaii and I threw a touchdown and he said, “You know when you do that, you give me a heart attack and it doesn’t work, I get fired.” And then I looked at him and then he smiled and said, “…but we scored, so I’m going to be able to feed my kids today,” and just laughed about it. I’ve had a lot of moments with Coach Hill and Coach (Jeff) Brady as well with the old staff where they told me, “What are you doing?!” and then it’s completed. So it’s fun to keep them on the edge of their seat. They can’t just sit back there and eat hot dogs and call plays all day.
PS: Pat Hill (currently the Atlanta Falcons offensive line coach), was a great coach for Fresno State and did so much for that program. What did you take away from your experience with him?
DC: I’ve learned so much from Coach Pat Hill just about the game, about being tough. Going through what I went through last year, I just remember things he taught me about being tough. You just got to go through it and be tough about it. Learning the game from him, the protections that we had my sophomore year, he tells me; I talked to him a long time ago, but I saw him and he said, “The protections that I had you do your sophomore year and your whole career until this past season, some teams don’t even do that in the NFL.” We had twelve different protections; just being able to do that kind of stuff and the stuff that matters at the next level. People like Coach (Bill) Belichick, they love getting players from Fresno State because, like they got Logan Mankins. He knew the game of football. That’s what I learned the most from him. He’s been like a second dad to me. He and his wife were always there for me when my parents weren’t here in town. They are great people, but those are the things that I learned from him.
PS: How has that been different from your time with Coach DeRuyter and what have you learned from him?
DC: He’s different in the sense that we’re a spread football team. We’re not a pro-style offense, so the things we talk about are a lot different than what you’d talk about with a pro-style team. Tempo, pushing the pace, play faster, stuff like that; those are things that I’ve learned from him which has led me to train differently. Train like you’re playing receiver. Don’t train like a quarterback; train like a receiver. Get strong, get fast, and be able to run all day whereas in the pro-style, you may not need to do all of that, so those are things I’ve learned from him. And with Coach Hill, like I said, he’s like a second dad to me. I’m very close to him and I think very highly of him in all senses.
PS: Is there an assistant or high school coach that stands out to you in helping you develop in your football career?
DC: Oh yea, Coach Bert and Coach Barnett, they were from Bakersfield Christian. And Coach Hume, he’s at Mansfield now in Texas, because I lived in Texas for a while. He was my head coach in Houston. Those guys taught me how to work hard. They taught me how to practice. They taught me those kinds of things. My dad and my brothers taught me everything I know pretty much and those coaches taught me how to put it to use on the practice field. Coach Grady taught me the most I know about coverages. He was my brother’s backup here and then he was my offensive coordinator and quarterback coach when I first got here. I got to learn a lot from him coverage-wise and about blitzes and all that good stuff.
PS: Why Recreation Administration and Leisure Services Management as your major?
DC: I did that so I could work with the youth; being able to work with the youth and the community. Going to high schools, junior highs or elementary schools; that way I can share my life stories and things that I’ve done in my life that were wrong and really just teach them the way that I do it and where it has gotten me so far.
PS: With that, what have you been able to do during your career with Fresno State?
DC: I’m very heavily involved with FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) and being able to go to schools and tell them about my faith, when I wasn’t living right and when I was “living right”; Just being able to tell them about the mistakes I’ve made and what I do now and where it’s gotten me. Being able to share that with them and having kids be able to come up to me afterward and just tell me “thank you” and being able to shake my hand or give me a hug and just tell you “thank you” and that stuff means the world to me. I don’t play football so everyone knows Derek Carr’s name. I do it so I can give everyone else glory; for my faith and for my family.
Carr not only has the chance to have another huge year in terms of his production and potentially repeating as Mountain West Champions and a shot at another Bowl win, but he has as much upside as any quarterback in this draft. It would be a huge mistake not to keep him an eye on the Carr and the combination of Carr to Adams this coming season as both could have big impacts this year in college football, but also in the future on Sundays. If nothing else, hopefully Carr can play this season healthy and get back to playing like himself rather than battling through pain every week.
Topics: Brett Favre, Cleveland Browns, Davante Adams, David Carr, Derek Carr, Fresno State Bulldogs Football, Greg Jennings, Leon McFadden, Logan Mankins, Margus Hunt, Mountain West, Peyton Manning, Phillip Thomas, Quarterbacks, Robbie Rouse, San Diego State Aztecs Football, SMU