In his fifth year in the National Football League as a starting defensive end for the Washington Redskins, Adam Carriker sometimes has to stop and take stock of where he's been, why he's still living his dream and what he has to do keep that dream alive.
Whenever a guy with a constant motor hits the pause button, one thing becomes crystal clear: Once you grab a dream, never let go and never quit dreaming.
Carriker has no intention of letting go, even if he has to pinch himself now and then as a father of two with a wife and a life in the nation's capitol, surrounded by Husker NFL rookies Niles Paul, Roy Helu Jr. and DeJon Gomes.
"Playing at Nebraska was a dream come true for me," he said, "and just getting a chance to play in the NFL was another dream come true. I never gave up on either dream, and I never will."
That, in a nutshell, explains how a 6-foot-6, 305-pound prep quarterback from Kennewick, Wash., can beat the odds after playing on a losing prep team, shoot for the moon in college and land in the home state of his father and his father's family, then keep his head and his heart going in the right direction to make it in the NFL.
Prep Team Won Only Two Games in Four Years
"To be honest, my dream my whole life was to play at Nebraska, but I never thought it was going to happen," Carriker said. "My high school team was terrible. I was halfway across America, and no one had ever heard of me."
That's not exactly true. Oregon State and Washington State offered Carriker a scholarship. So did Oregon until the head coach withdrew the offer when another defensive lineman committed to the Ducks.
Fortunately, Carriker's high school coach knew his veteran quarterback and rookie defensive end had grandparents in Grand Island, so he contacted Nebraska's coaching staff and set the recruitment in motion. Thinking he would get a greyshirt offer to walk on for his first year instead of a scholarship, he prepared himself to stay in the Northwest.
When Nebraska, the winningest program in college football since 1970, offered Carriker a full ride, he didn't get stage-struck or star-struck. He just knew, deep down, there was power in dreams because the biggest one in his life just came through instead of fell through.
"My high school only won two games in four years," he said. "My senior year, we didn't win a game, so it's hard to get noticed. I thought that would really hurt me in the process."
Simple Game Plan: Don't Run to Carriker's Side
Talk about shock and awe. "I never played defensive end before my senior year, so there wasn't much film or much to see on me," Carriker said. "Most of our game tapes were pretty ugly because the score was so lopsided. One opposing coach even told our coach before a game that 'We're not running to Carriker's side one time this game.' It was pretty frustrating. When no one's running at you, it's hard to show what you can do."
No wonder Carriker thought about pinching himself the minute he arrived in Lincoln. "As a high school player, it wasn't easy going into almost every game expecting to lose," he said. "At Nebraska, it was just the opposite. You go into every game expecting to win. It was a totally different mindset."
And one that Carriker immediately embraced. He was so enamored with his new outlook on life, everything fell in place. A dream come true almost seemed too good to be true. "I would get so emotional on game days, I would say: 'Wow, this is really happening!'" he recalled. "It was that way from my freshman year to my senior year. That feeling never went away."
It never went away because Carriker realized as a freshman that if you don't have a dream, how can you have a dream come true? Dreams require goals, and he had big ones: Maximize his talent and use his unique combination of size, speed, strength and ability to control the line of scrimmage, apply pressure to the quarterback and stop the run while taking on multiple blockers.
And that's exactly what happened in 2006 when Carriker made three preseason All-America teams and four major award "Watch Lists". Big 12 coaches voted him the Big 12 Conference Defensive Lineman of the Year.
Carriker Loved Every Day He Spent in Lincoln
"I loved wearing that Nebraska uniform every Saturday," Carriker said. "I can't even pick my fondest memory because I loved just walking around the campus. I loved the people. I loved gameday. To be honest, I loved being in Lincoln every day the whole time I was there."
Three games stick out most in his mind - a 32-28 win over Michigan in the Alamo Bowl as a junior and two important wins as a senior - a 28-27 escape at Texas A&M and a 37-14 bashing of Colorado. "Colorado was my last home game as a senior," he said. "I remember getting two sacks and holding up the Big 12 North trophy at the end of the game. The whole stadium stood up and really hooted and hollered. It just meant so much. I was the last one off the field that day. I was in no hurry to get off."
Knowing that any dream worth dreaming is worth the extra-effort to make it come true, Carriker's thought process turned to the NFL, and the mindset was similar to the one heused to succeed in Division I ... what once seemed impossible can turn into improbable and eventually become inevitable.
Adam Carriker was destined to become a pro, and he refuses to let go of his second major dream. "Just getting drafted was my fondest memory as a pro," he said. "It was pretty awesome to see that dream come true, and when it did, I made a commitment to myself to do everything possible to make the experience last as long as it can."
Sees Huskers Getting Deserved Redemption
While he executes that strategy, Carriker will keep tabs on his alma mater and see how the third-game-in-12-month rubber match against Washington plays out. "I was a little surprised how lopsided the game was in Seattle last year," he said. "I hate to say I kind of called the rematch in San Diego. It was a team we didn't want to play and a bowl game we didn't want to be in. We had our hearts set on a BCS bowl and lost another close Big 12 title game.
"We've been so close to that conference championship, it's ridiculous," Carriker said. "We can make it all up, though, if we can win the first Big Ten Championship ever. That would be off the charts. It would also release a lot of frustration ... and kind of make everything okay again."
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Voices from Husker Nation
"Great piece on Adam Carriker. My son and I had the pleasure of meeting Adam and his wife in St Louis during his last year with the Rams. He was injured and on IR but was at the E.J. Dome for the Rams-Packers game, sitting outside the Packers' locker room area. I couldn't believe it was him sitting there with no mob around him or anything, so I walked over and said hi to him. By coincidence, I'm from Kennewick, and I did my graduate work at UNL, so I had an oddly similar background. He was so gracious, even though his arm was in a sling, and he was with his wife and child (only one baby at the time) and I believe his father-in-law was there as well. He chatted with me, and we spoke about Kennewick High, how bad his team was and how good my teams were when I went to and played at KeHS. Adam's wife offered to take our picture, so I have one with him and my son, plus an autograph on the Blackshirts' hat I wore to the game that day. I'm glad Adam has found a new home in D.C. He's given me a reason to root for the Redskins, even though I'm still a Seahawks' season ticket holder! Thanks for your great article! Tom Muraoka, Shelton, Connecticut
"Last year, when Ndamukong Suh joined Dominic Raiola on what was an abysmal franchise in Detroit, I became a Lions' fan and still am. Their redibility continues to build every week. This year, with character like Carriker and Nebraska influence like Roy Helu Jr., DeJon Gomes and Niles Paul, I'm getting in on the ground floor with Washington. This story just made me a certifiable Redskins' fan. Beat the Cowboys!" Steve Dobson, Chicago, Illinois