National Columnist

Derek Carr living up to family name at Fresno State ... and beyond?

You're reading this Derek Carr story because of the paper he wrote in 10th grade.

Not because of his statistics, even if they are something out of a video game. Carr has thrown for 4,467 yards, 45 touchdowns and five interceptions this season. Those are numbers a guy puts up in Tecmo. Carr is putting them up at Fresno State -- and still has two games to play -- which is ridiculous, but lots of guys have ridiculous numbers. The numbers aren't why you're reading this, or why I'm writing it.

The paper from 10th grade is why. Who is Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr? He's analytical. Passionate. Unique. The paper from 10th grade showed it, I found out about it, so I started calling people to find out more.

And heard about the video from fifth grade.

And that's where we start this story on Derek Carr, younger brother of David Carr, the No. 1 overall pick of the expansion Houston Texans in 2002. We start with a video from one year earlier, when David was a senior at Fresno State and putting up ridiculous numbers -- Tecmo numbers -- and not getting enough Heisman attention in 2001.

A TV station in Fresno invited David Carr to talk about it. David brought along his brother, and Derek stole the show. Completely robbed the moment, which you can see right here. The video is seven minutes long. At the three-minute mark the reporter turns to 10-year-old Derek, and that's where David Carr's time on the local news ends.

And where this story begins.

David Carr is sitting in a chair, baseball cap backward on his head. Next to him is Derek, soft and cherubic, wearing his brother's Fresno State No. 8 jersey. On Derek's head is a baseball cap turned backward. Coming out of his mouth are football numbers and knowledge and history, an impressive stream of football commentary for anyone, much less a fifth-grader.

TV reporter: "When you hear people saying other guys are ahead of your brother for the Heisman, how does that make you feel?"

Derek: "You know it's not true and you know they can't make the throws your brother can and you know that, well, he's just the best quarterback in the nation."

A graphic shows David Carr is the sixth player in NCAA history to throw for 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns. The reporter wonders why other guys on the list won the Heisman -- while the guy on the couch, David Carr, won't.

The fifth-grader breaks it down for him.

"It's probably all about the school they're at, and just how people vote," Derek tells him. "It's because we lost the two games and we're in the WAC. That just makes a big difference. It should go to the best player, and one player [Paul Hornung in 1956] with a 2-8 record still won the Heisman at Notre Dame, and the Fresno State Bulldogs are 10-2 and my brother's not even in the top two or three in the Heisman race."

The reporter then mutters something silly, one of two throwaway lines he says during the interview. The reporter nods at the Fresno State jersey Derek is wearing and says this:

"Maybe we'll see Derek wear that [No.] 8 for the Bulldogs. They might retire it for David, but I understand he's going to let Derek wear it anyway."

Derek Carr was 10 years old.

Fresno State did retire David Carr's No. 8, but Derek didn't wear it. Didn't even ask.

"I wanted to wear my own number so hopefully they can do the same thing with mine," Derek told me this week. "That way there could be two Carr names up on the stadium. That would be really cool."

I ask Derek Carr if he's serious: Did he really turn down the chance to wear his brother's No. 8 because he wanted Fresno State to retire his No. 4? Did he really have that idea before playing his first game in college?

"True story," he told me.

This is a confident guy, as evidenced by his choice of college. Five years ago Derek Carr was one of the top quarterback recruits in the country. Wherever he went, he was going to be introduced as a centerpiece to the team's recruiting class, a foundation for the future.

Unless he went to Fresno State, where he was introduced as David Carr's younger brother.

As the story goes, then-Fresno State coach Pat Hill called the Carr house in 2008 to check on David, whose NFL career had started to sputter. The former No. 1 pick was on his third team in three years when Hill phoned Rodger and Sheryl Carr, calling about David.

"Why aren't you calling about Derek?" Rodger asked the Fresno State coach.

"I didn't think we had a chance," Hill said.

Said Rodger: "Why don't you speak to him yourself."

Rodger handed the phone to Derek, a Bakersfield (Calif.) Christian quarterback throwing for 4,067 yards, 46 touchdowns. Tecmo numbers. Pat Hill offered him a scholarship right then and there. Derek accepted.

"Ever since I was little," Derek said, "I knew I wanted to come here and do what my brother did."

His brother threw for 4,839 yards and 46 touchdowns in 2001.

"I guess I must be silly because I didn't know this many yards was impossible," Derek said. "I just thought, that's what happens."

He was right, of course. With two games left Derek Carr has thrown for 4,467 yards and 45 touchdowns. He leads the country in both categories.

Just like his brother did in 2001.

They've lived parallel lives in other ways, too. David Carr spent five years at Fresno State, redshirting a season -- but not his freshman season -- and getting married. He became a father before his senior season, then led the country in yards and touchdowns.

Derek Carr did all that, too: Five years at Fresno State, the non-freshman redshirt. The wife. The baby before the senior season. The NCAA-best yards and TDs.

"It's weird how it all matches up," Derek said. "That wasn't planned, I guarantee you."

The NFL Draft is in five months. Will they match up again? Could be. Derek Carr is projected to go in the top 10, and that's before NFL teams interview him. Believe this: Derek Carr will ace the interviews. He was breaking down film in middle school and he has the maturity and perspective that comes with marriage and weathering a real-life scare when his son, Dallas, was born Aug. 6 with twisted intestines. Dallas underwent two operations and three weeks in the hospital before going home with Derek and Heather Carr on Aug. 27.

Two days later Derek threw for 470 yards and five touchdowns against Rutgers.

Could Derek Carr go No. 1 overall, 12 years after his brother? Could be. Whenever he goes in the first round, he'll be prepared for the scrutiny. He watched his brother go through it in Houston.

And wrote about it for Mrs. Hulme.

The best papers were hanging on the wall in English class. The assignment: Research a topic, and argue it. Derek Carr picked something close to his heart. His paper made it onto the wall. The title:

Should the Texans trade David Carr?

That topic was all the rage in Houston, where David Carr spent five seasons as the Texans' starter, never becoming a star -- but never being surrounded with the talent to make it happen. Fans were booing and the media was making snide comments that Derek, a sophomore at Clements High, was "the best quarterback named Carr in Houston."

"I knew the family," Derek's teacher in 10th grade, Mindy Hulme, said. "And it was heartbreaking to watch."

Said then-Clements football coach Jeff Hulme, the English teacher's husband: "I think his mom and dad did a tremendous job of shielding Derek from some of the negative stuff that was being said about his brother."

Even so, Derek Carr was a target dating to middle school. One time he was sick and couldn't play, so his best friend, Brian Till, was quarterback for the game. On a whim Till wore Derek's jersey -- No. 8, just like his brother -- and discovered it wasn't much fun being David Carr's little brother in Houston.

"The other team was yelling, 'Get Carr!'" Till said. "They thought I was him, and they were all coming after me, tackling me really hard. I had to get 10 stitches after the game. They got me, I guess. I called Derek from the hospital and told him I'd walked in his shoes a little bit."

By 2006 the David Carr hysteria in Houston had reached a crescendo, and Derek used his football acumen and passion for his favorite player to write a paper about it.

"I concluded they shouldn't trade him, because he hadn't had a fair shot," Derek told me this week. "Of all his offensive linemen, very few of them lasted in the NFL. I think that mattered."

The Texans tried to trade David Carr after that 2006 season but couldn't find a taker, so they released him -- and in the seven years since he has played sparingly for four teams, with a 68.5 passer rating.

Derek Carr, whose family moved to Bakersfield after the Texans released his brother, stands by the crux of his 2006 paper.

"I see the way things went down, and he was scapegoated," Derek said. "I went back and watched some of his games and I can assure you, knowing what I know about football, it wasn't his fault.

"You just find out how much of a business it is. You find out who's loyal, who's not. I know a lot about a lot of guys around the league. They have no clue I know things, but it will help me out later on. I still think having an older brother in the NFL is the coolest thing ever. But to see how it went down is sad."

Back to that video from 2001. Before he became a three-year starter for Fresno State, nearly a decade before he threw for the first of his 12,222 yards and 108 touchdowns, Derek Carr was sitting in front of a TV camera. He was 10, and in his high-pitched voice he spoke wistfully about the Heisman his brother wasn't going to win.

"It'd be something to have [the trophy] in David's house," Derek said in 2001. "It'd be nice to look at."

And then the reporter offered the second of the two throwaway lines I mentioned earlier. The reporter looked at Derek Carr in 2001 and said:

"Maybe you might have chance to win one, too."

Twelve years later Derek Carr leads the country in six major passing categories. He has topped 400 yards seven times, and in the past month he has thrown for 20 TDs and one INT and averaged 472 passing yards per game. Well, why can't he win the Heisman in 2013?

Oh, right. It's like he said of his brother back in 2001:

"It's probably all about the school they're at," Derek Carr said 12 years ago, "and just how people vote."

 
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