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Leaving a Legacy: Derek Carr’s final season in Fresno

Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr sports the new all-black uniforms that the Bulldogs will debut on Nov. 2 against Nevada. Photo by Roe Borunda/The Collegian

Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr sports the new all-black uniforms that the Bulldogs will debut on Nov. 2 against Nevada. Photo by Roe Borunda/The Collegian

The end of an era is near.

Derek Carr, the Fresno State Bulldogs’ starting quarterback for the past three seasons, is playing his final season in front of the Red Wave. He leaves behind a legacy that will not be forgotten.

“It goes through my head. I can and I can’t wait for it to be over,” Carr said. “I can’t wait because I want to see what happens. I just want to see how my teammates do. I can wait because I don’t want it to end. It’s kind of bittersweet, but I’m going to go out there and give it everything I’ve got.”

Entering 2013, Carr has a 65 percent career completion percentage, with 7,760 career yards. This makes him only 3,048 yards shy of tying Kevin Sweeney’s 16-year-old Fresno State record of 10,623 yards.

In the first game of the 2013 season, Carr’s arm showed no signs of slowing down. He threw 53 completions in 74 attempts for 456 yards and five touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ overtime win against Rutgers. His passing yards already make him first in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) after Week 1 of play.

Now that the last hurrah has started, there is a humble beginning to it all.

Carr played high school football at Bakersfield Christian High School, where he led his team to a 12-1 record and threw for 4,067 yards (ranked third in California) and 46 touchdowns in his senior year. Voted the Private School National Player of the Year, he was recruited by top schools such as Louisiana State University, Notre Dame, Alabama, University of Southern California, and University of California, Berkeley before deciding on Fresno State.

And at Fresno State, he soon found out the difference between college football and high school football.

Carr made his Fresno State debut on Sep. 5, 2009, in the third quarter of a 42-0 Bulldogs lead against UC Davis. Despite the hefty lead, there were still butterflies in his stomach as he was introduced to 37,267 fans.

“I’ve never played in front of that many people in my life,” he said. “I remember my first play … I knew I wasn’t going to hand the ball off. I went ahead and threw it out to my receiver, Devin Wylie. [He] actually caught my first pass.”

After that first completion, a weight was lifted off Carr’s shoulders.

“I was like, ‘Oh, OK, it’s not too bad.’ It happened a lot faster than it does during high school,” he said.

Carr saw considerable playing time as Ryan Colburn’s backup during his freshman season. He played in five games, where he made 10 completions out of 14 attempts for 112 yards. In 2010, Carr redshirted, choosing to spend extra time getting bigger in the weight room than playing on the field.

“Coming out of high school, I was a 185, 190-pound quarterback,” he said. “I knew that I’m not going to reach my full potential for a long time. And now, this being my fifth year, I’m glad I redshirted.”

And that was a good decision for Carr. In 2011, he made his first start facing the California Golden Bears at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Despite a weak offensive line in front of him (he was sacked four times), he threw for 142 yards and was 21 of 33 in a 21-36 defeat. After a second loss to No. 10 Nebraska, the Bulldogs headed back to Bulldog Stadium, where he got his first starting win against North Dakota.

He finished 2011 with 3,544 yards, which was the third-most in Bulldogs’ history and most ever by a Bulldog sophomore. He averaged 278.2 yards per game, 22nd in the nation and threw to 15 different receivers that year, completing 62.6 percent of his passes (279-446).

2012 brought change for Carr and the Bulldogs. Head coach Pat Hill left the Fresno State program and replacing him was Texas A&M University defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter. Carr and his teammates adjusted well to DeRuyter’s new style of play. The Bulldogs reversed their record from the previous season and became Mountain West co-champions.

During those years, Carr grew physically and mentally.

“[Making mistakes] keeps me grounded. That’s what keeps me humble,” he said.

“I don’t get caught up in the stats, the words, all that kind of stuff. If I made a mistake, what can I do tomorrow to fix it. Was it my mindset, my feet, my eyes? I’m always trying to get better. I never get comfortable.”

On Aug. 5, 2013, Carr welcomed his first son, Dallas Mason Carr, into the world.  What the Red Wave knew was that Carr was a happy father and it was a blessing experience. What they didn’t know was that little Dallas Carr was making his father grow even more.

Dallas would suffer a medical condition that would test Carr’s mental strength. And it was a test that Carr would pass. He pushed through the scare, keeping a smile on the field and not telling anyone how he was feeling inside. It wasn’t until Dallas made it home safely that the details of this scare would become public.

This event not only strengthened Carr, but also brought him in tune with his emotions.

“I think my son made me soft,” he said after the Bulldogs’ win over Rutgers. “I sat there and bawled my eyes out. I can’t explain why – I’m not a crier.”

Now, after winning the championship last season, there is still more work to do.

“We want to win every game,” he said. “In the most humble way, we think we can go out and win every game.”

One thing that is on Carr’s mind is the Heisman Trophy.

Fresno State has not had a Heisman winner. In fact, the last time a California school other than USC won the Heisman was in 1967.

“Everything I do is not just for me,” he said. “When people finally get to know me, they understand that. Everything I do is for my faith, my family, the city of Fresno. That way, when people here walk around town, they can say, ‘We had a Heisman Trophy winner here, and he was a pretty good guy.’”

After college, Carr wants to do what any other marquee senior quarterback would want to do: play in the National Football League.

“I never doubt myself, so hopefully I’m starting on a team and winning some games. That’s definitely the plan,” he said.

With his faith and his family as major priorities in his life, the Red Wave has a special place in Carr’s heart. With only 11 games left in this era, he never stops short of showing his appreciation to Fresno State fans.

“I would say thank you so much for the support, because it hasn’t been easy since my sophomore year,” he said. “There were always teachers and students saying hi to me and supporting me, encouraging me all throughout the city and the Valley.

“There was always that encouragement: ‘Keep going, the team will get better, you’re going to get better.’

“Everyone stuck behind us and thank you for the support.”