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July 24, 2013

Derek Carr played with a secret




Legends are often comprised of part fact and part fiction. We add bits and pieces to the story over time in an effort to put a bow on a remarkable event, season, or career. While particular elements of a legend may or may not be true, the foundation for a legend is almost always rooted in perseverance, grit, determination, and pure dedication. All of these qualities are present for the latest chapter of Derek Carr's growing legend.

At Mountain West Media Days, Carr informed everyone that he had been playing hurt during most of 2012. The injury had severely limited his mobility and had even had an impact on the play calling. Should Fresno State live up to the expectations in 2013, you can most certainly bet that this story will be present when alumni regal future students of his glory days.

"It makes it hard not come back and try to do it again," Carr said. "This core of guys that's coming back will probably be our best team that we've put on the field in a long time. These guys are really good. We're fast, very physical, and I'm excited."

Carr wasn't just playing injured in 2012, he was playing with several injuries and any one of them could have kept him out of the lineup. But like any true warrior, Carr had no intentions of letting down his troops.

"I had a sports hernia," Carr said. "I had an ab[dominal] tear. So, the bottom of my abs ripped off at training camp and I had to play all year with it. We had a little stress deal on the bone, also. I had to play with that, but never in my mind did I think that I would sit out, get the surgery, and let my teammates out to dry. It was just something you have to deal with and it sucked. It hurt to sneeze, let alone play football."

Surprisingly, Carr and the Bulldogs were able to keep a lid on his injuries all season.

"My wife," Carr said of the people who knew. "My wife and the trainers. There's a lot of teammates that didn't know. The coaches knew. There was things in practice we had to modify. I couldn't roll out - and we tried to hide it the best we could, you know, but we couldn't roll out. I couldn't do a lot of the zone-read stuff, which is big in our offense. They would tell me, 'we gotta go do it a couple times to keep the defense honest,' but it's just grit your teeth and grind through it, kinda. It was a fun year. But at the same time, it was a hard year. It never is easy. College football is always hard, but I'm glad I'm healthy."

True to the legend cliché, Carr told nobody and left it on the field. But that doesn't quite tell the whole story of how much pain it caused the Bulldogs' general.

"So, with the surgery that we got, the guy was pretty phenomenal," Carr said. "After the surgery, they had me walk as soon as I woke up. So I got up and walked to the bathroom, and that's how they checked to see if I was okay. The first three days, I'll tell you, it was miserable. I'd never had surgery before, so I was freaked out. I thought I was gonna be like that forever. But, you know, within a week I was running the stadium, Bulldog Stadium. It happened pretty quickly and we slowly progressed. Being myself, my trainers were getting mad at me because I was going too fast. But I felt pretty good, pretty early.

"If I would have had the surgery, I probably would have been out -- to be capable of playing in a college football game -- I probably would have been out, I don't know, probably the rest of the year, maybe the whole year. Maybe I would have been able to come back and play at the end, but who knows. Especially when the season is on the line and you're getting ready for each week. How far are you gonna push yourself? Are you going to have a set back? It wouldn't have been a good idea [to have the surgery], I don't think."

The injuries weren't just affecting Carr on the field, either. Even something as simple as sneezing left him on the ground in pain. Despite being given the option by team doctors, Carr refused to quit on the season. Instead, he opted to play through the pain and hide it from as many people as he could.

"It was an option given to me, but it was never an option to take," Carr said. "Especially because my teammates mean too much to me. I felt that being out there would help us the best. It hurt pretty bad. I remember sneezing one time and I was on the ground. My wife walked in and she thought there was something really wrong, that something had happened to me. She asked what happened. I was sitting there grabbing myself, I told her I sneezed, and she just laughed at me. It got worse. The first two games it was bearable, I'd say. Then we had to modify practice and stuff like that.

"I'm a very faithful person. If Jesus could get made fun of, mocked, and hung on a cross in front of people, I think I can go play a football game. That's how I got through it. There was really nothing you could put there. Any way you get hit - you're using your abs all the time, so it could have torn off at any moment. But it was okay, we got through it."

Got through it they did. Finishing with a nine win season, a share of the Mountain West Championship, and a ton of individual honors. Carr had a spectacular season and was the runaway winner of the Mountain West's Offensive Player of the Year. Yet none of that satisfies Carr. The process is always about getting better and building on previous results. When asked what type of year he hoped to have, Carr answered humbly and honestly.

"Just to improve," Carr said. "I never set stats out there. I never set goals like that out there because there's a lot of things you can't control with touchdowns and there's a lot of stuff that could be dropped. Or interceptions, you can't control a lot of things. The thing I'm trying to do is just become better at the things I wasn't so good at last year. You know, especially, a lot of it was coming off playing hurt all year and no one knew about it. And I wasn't going to tell anybody because I didn't want it to distract our team.

"Playing hurt last year was hard, but I'm healthy this year and I got a whole off-season of being healthy and working on things that I needed to get better at. So, just being better than I was last year, that's my goal every year. I promise myself that I'm going to be better than I was last year. And so that's what I'm looking forward to this year."

Opposing coaches will be thrilled to hear that they have to plan for a better version of last year's Carr. While Carr wasn't offering up the full range of his abilities to opposing DC's, he was kind enough to drop some hints as to what they can expect.

"I can run," Carr said. "I can get out of the way of some pressure when teams blitz us. Me being able to run will force the defenses to play different coverages. If I can run, then there's probably not going to be a lot of man coverage going on. If they want to put a spy on me, then that means there are more one-on-ones for the great receiving corps that we have."

Just what defensive coordinators around the Mountain West have been longing to hear. And just who do these coaches have to blame when Carr comes to play? Well, like any good legend tale, a woman is usually at the heart of the matter.

"My wife had a big say, she had a big say," Carr said of returning for his senior season. "That's another thing. I had just talked to my brother after had gotten married. We were a year off being married and moving her away from her family. That's all very new to her. We're comfortable with where we're at right now, you know, in Fresno. So, give her another year to get her mind set and get her parents ready, so to speak, that we're gonna be going somewhere else real soon."

He sure is. And she's likely to be right by his side when they travel to Radio City Music Hall for the 2014 NFL Draft. After all, behind every good man stands a good woman. Luckily for Heather Carr, they'll probably be able to afford some really comfortable shoes for her to do just that. Legends can do that, you know.

Stay tuned to FSBulldogs.com for more updates on the upcoming Fresno State 2013 football season.

Josh Webb is a special contributor to FSBulldogs.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @BulldogsTwist.


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