Carrier was a diamond in the rough

By Bruce Brown

(First in a series on the 2010 inductees into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame)

Mark Carrier always had the tools. All he needed was someone to put him to work.

Carrier starred in football, basketball and track and field at Church Point High, and that combination of skills translated into All-American status as a Nicholls State University wide receiver, followed by 12 years in the National Football League.

His big break came when Nicholls assistant coach Ron Brown scouted him.

“He was so young,” Brown recalled. “At his high school, they didn’t really throw the ball. I had a big-time job trying to find if he could do what I said he could do. I went to three games, and in the third one, they faced a third-and-long and finally threw the ball.

“Mark went up and got it, and I¹d seen all I needed to see.”

Nicholls was in a throwing mode under coach Sonny Jackson in the 1980’s, and Carrier blossomed into a Division I-AA All-American with 147 receptions for 2,709 yards and 24 touchdown, highlighted by his All-American senior year of 1986 (78 catches, 1,513 yards, 20 scores).

“He taught me how to play the game,” Carrier said of Brown. “He taught me the things that were in me, and brought them out of me. He pulled the best out of me.”

Carrier’s best translated easily to the NFL, where he caught 569 passes for 8,763 yards and 48 touchdowns in stops with Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Carolina. His breakout season was 1989 in Tampa, when he achieved Pro Bowl status with 86 catches for 1,422 yards and nine scores.

The numbers and consistent quality were enough to include Carrier in the 2010 Class of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. He is joined by longtime prep coach Lee Hedges, LSU and major league pitching star Ben McDonald, UL Monroe basketball coach Mike Vining, La. Tech women¹s basketball star Teresa

Weatherspoon, Nicholls basketball standout Larry Wilson and Mansfield native Orlando Woolridge (Notre Dame) in basketball.

Ceremonies will be held Saturday, June 26 in Natchitoches to culminate the June 24-26 2010 Induction Celebration. For more information and to purchase tickets to the Induction Dinner and Ceremonies, visit the www.lasportshall.com website or call 318-238-4250.

“More than anything, I was surprised and humbled,” Carrier said of his Hall of Fame status. “Really, it¹s nothing that I ever thought about. I¹ve been in Florida for a while now. My career took me to Tampa, then Cleveland and then to Carolina.

“I get home often, but I didn¹t know if people remembered me. I¹m honored.”

In a class heavy with basketball talent, Carrier is one whose first love was the hardwood.

“Basketball kind of was my sport in high school,” he said, “and those skills translated into football -- being athletic, running up and down the court, reacting, jumping, rebounding. They were all helpful as a receiver, as was hand-eye coordination.

“My junior year (at Church Point), I think I had 20 catches,” Carrier added. “My senior year, I think I had half that in interceptions. He (Brown) saw in me things statistics couldn¹t show. It wasn¹t about the numbers.”

That soon changed, as the wide-open Nicholls State offense threw with calculated abandon with Doug Hudson at quarterback.

“You watched film, and it was a perfect fit for me,” Carrier said. “We ran four receivers all the time, which is customary now. I saw myself fitting right in. It was a receiver’s dream. Coach Brown molded your talents to fit the system. He didn’t change you; just had to perfect your game.

“He put me in the right position to excel.”

“Mark listened, and he was intelligent, both in school and on the field,” Brown said. “With all the young kids, we would teach how routes change against certain coverages. We taught route-running, which they didn¹t get in high school, and how to be deceptive at it.

“He understood when to do certain things, and he had deceptive speed. When it was time to make plays, he made plays. From the very first day, I felt he could play on Sundays (in the NFL). There was something about him. He was so smooth.”

A deep run into the Division I-AA playoffs in 1986 helped showcase Carrier, and helped convince the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to select him in the third round of the 1987 NFL Draft. After a 26-catch rookie season, he averaged 59 receptions for the next five seasons.

“I was invited to the NFL Combine, and did extremely well,” Carrier said. “I surprised people. My stock rose when I ran a 4.43 time in the 40. Then after the Combine I started receiving calls.”

Ray Perkins was the Buccaneers coach, and his practices were famously hard-nosed.

“It was not the NFL I saw on TV,” Carrier said. “I saw camp as (in) shorts, laid-back. But we had three-a-day practices, in Tampa, in the summer. But I figured I could fit in, because we ran a pro-style offense at Nicholls.

“I did learn that this is a business. It’s a job, your livelihood, and you have to fight for your job every day.”

Instead of playing before his accustomed collegiate crowds of 8,000 fans, Carrier was now playing for 75,000-80,000, and was playing 16-game seasons.

But by his third season, the ex-Colonel was ready to break out.

“I had been into the system for a couple of years, and had learned my role as well as the different styles of coaching,” Carrier said. “It began to kick in. I just had to go out and execute it. Plus, (quarterback) Vinny Testaverde and I had worked together a couple of years and were on the same

page.

“I worked hard,” Carrier said. “I may not be the fastest, or have the best hands, but I worked and I truly learned the game. I could play any one of four receiver positions. I learned each facet of the position. And I learned defenses.

“I took pride in my work ethic. I got that from my mom.”

Brown knew he had a gem long before the world knew Mark Carrier. He even told Carrier’s mom that her son would play in the NFL and “get you out of these projects.” She thought it was a recruiting tool, but found out he was right.

To have Carrier drafted by the Bucs, in Brown’s hometown, added a special touch. Carrier still makes his home in Tampa, and Brown visits frequently for golf games when he¹s in town visiting his family.

Carrier spent two years with the Cleveland Browns, then started over again with the Carolina Panthers and had a 1,000-yard season in 1995. He remained a consistent contributor until his final campaign in 1998.

“With everybody, it’s different deciding when to leave the game,” Carrier said. “The average (in the NFL) is less than four years. To play 10 is truly a blessing. I was able to walk away healthy. It was time to enjoy my kids, my family and my wife.”

“He had the ability to catch the football, and the rest is history,” Brown said.

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