There was a time when Stephen Carr could’ve gone anywhere.
As a five-star high school prospect growing up in Gardena, Calif., Carr fielded scholarship overtures from Alabama, Notre Dame, Michigan, Oregon, and a long list of other college football powers. But it was the Southern California offer that he coveted — the opportunity to play for his favorite college football team that captured his focus from a young age.
“USC,” Carr said Tuesday, ‘that was my dream school.”
Carr made as much clear when he committed to the Trojans days after the program offered him a scholarship in March 2015 while he was still a sophomore in high school. For four years at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Carr was able to realize his dream of playing for USC’s storied program.
But the thing about dreams is that they can evolve. With one year of college eligibility remaining, Carr wanted to see what other opportunities were out there to experience. And when he committed to IU as a graduate transfer last month, Carr did so with the intention of seeing what a fresh start could feel like at a place he believes can help him become a new man.
“Being away from my family and friends and not being able to hang out with them so easily, I feel like this gives me a great opportunity to focus on myself and learn a lot about myself and determine if I want it that bad or not, which I know I do,” Carr said. “I can’t wait for these next five months to see the end result.”
From the Hoosiers’ perspective, they’ll hope the result of Carr’s arrival is more production — and depth — in their backfield. Carr will compete for carries during fall camp in August, hoping to carve a prominent role inside of an offense that could use more punch in the running game. For Carr, the move to IU also represents an opportunity to finish his college career on a high note after working through injuries and uneven production during his run at USC.
After totaling 363 rushing yards and three touchdowns, and averaging 5.6 yards per carry as a true freshman in 2017, Carr struggled to find traction from there. Injuries were part of his problem. A torn plantar fascia limited him during his first season before a herniated disk caused him issues as a sophomore. From there, Carr dealt with a few other nagging injuries while becoming a part-time player in the offense. It also probably didn’t help that the Trojans cycled through a rotating cast of position coaches during his time with the program.
The hope is that Deland McCullough, the first of those instructors, can help him recapture some of the burst and effectiveness he displayed as a rookie runner four years ago. McCullough, Carr says, helped him understand that there was more to carrying the football than merely taking the handoff and sprinting through a hole.
“He taught me a lot,” Carr said. “Coming out of high school, I didn’t really know too much about football. I would just get the ball and run. It worked out, thank God. But coming in my freshman year, he taught me a whole lot. He explained the blocking schemes to me, how to read holes, how to read the first down defender, how to call out a D-lineman that’s a 3-tech or a 5-tech — stuff like that.”
Carr, who is now living in Bloomington full-time as summer workouts get underway, hasn’t had many opportunities to sit down with McCullough and talk ball since venturing to the midwest. When the recruiting dead period ended early last week, the IU running backs coach left town to recruit the next crop of Hoosiers. But Carr is eagerly anticipating his coach’s return, because he has some ideas he wants to work on in order to fully realize his potential as a college runner this fall.
The 6-foot, 215-pound Carr believes he has the physical tools to be a special player in a Big Ten offense. He just needs to hone a few specific skills to allow his talents to take him where he wants to go.
“I can run downhill,” Carr said. “I think I just need to make better decisions with my run game and that will take me to the next level. (I need to) stop thinking too much and just get straight to the point and get those yards.”
Indiana needs someone it can trust to pick up yards now that Stevie Scott is trying to stick in the NFL. This summer, Carr will compete with Sampson James, Tim Baldwin and David Ellis for carries in a backfield with no clear frontrunner for the heavy lifting. With his four years of running in the Pac-12, Carr has more experience than any of IU’s other options in the room.
Now, it’s up to him to take advantage of the opportunity. Given a fresh start with a coach he knows well, Carr is eager to make the most of his stay in Bloomington.
He’s also excited to see what he learns about himself in the process.
“I’m being patient,” Carr said, “taking it day-by-day and trying to stack my coins, little by little and get one-percent better every day.”