Football: After receiving scholarship, Carr continues to grow on and off the field


Daily file photo by Zack Laurence

Austin Carr sprints past a defender in Northwestern’s game against Eastern Illinois. The junior receiver and former walk-on has grown into a bigger role after receiving a scholarship before the season.

Stephanie Kelly, Managing Editor


Northwestern had dug itself into a 1-point deficit. Running out of time, the Wildcats faced third-and-15 and needed a big play to stay alive against Penn State on Saturday.

Enter junior wide receiver Austin Carr.

With two minutes to play in the fourth quarter, Carr made his first catch of the game, a 23-yarder that proved vital in the Wildcats’ 23-21 win Saturday.

“The ball was in the air for a while,” he said. “I probably could have written a midterm paper while it was up there, or gone to office hours.”

Having already beaten the defender who was on him and with a well-placed throw from senior quarterback Zack Oliver, Carr wasn’t feeling the pressure so much as the excitement, he said. While playing against Nebraska last year, Carr was set to catch a similar late-in-the-game throw and dropped it.

“For a split second while the ball was in the air, I kind of remembered that moment against Nebraska and was like, ‘I can’t let this happen again,’” he said.

Carr ended up catching the throw, falling to the ground with the ball in hand. NU won after junior kicker Jack Mitchell made a game-winning field goal on the same drive.

Off of the field, Carr uses his faith to center him during such plays.

“(My faith) helps me to know that whether I make that catch or not, I’m still loved,” he said. “I still know where I’m going.”

Carr focused more on his faith after arriving at NU. With about 2,000 miles separating Carr from his hometown of Benicia, California, he wanted to prioritize it more, he said.

Since his freshman year, he has been involved in Athletes in Action, an interdenominational Christian ministry for NU athletes. Carr first joined to both grow his faith and have a support group and has continued to be involved, even traveling abroad to East Asia in the spring of 2014 with the group.

“I’m not the same person on the field as I was last year,” he said. “I’m also not the same guy off the field as a result of the community that’s there and growing in my faith.”

Having won a student-athlete talent show in 2013, Carr is known for his vocals and piano skills. Although it’s harder to do in the fall because of time constraints, Carr writes songs when he has the chance.

“It’s a passion that I’m definitely not going to drop,” he said. “I’m definitely going to have a keyboard wherever I live, whatever I do.”

For the 6-foot-1-inch, 195-pound Carr, this football season has already been memorable. With two touchdown catches this season, Carr continues to contribute in games. In September, the former walk-on was offered a scholarship.

“It was a blessing,” Carr said of the offer. “I’m not going to let it get to my head.”

Although not something he thought of day-to-day, being granted a scholarship was “a hope,” Carr said. When speaking with wide receiver coach Dennis Springer the day before the offer, Carr said Springer had told him to hang in there, that he was contributing well.

“The next day, the surprise came,” he said.

September also saw Carr’s first career touchdown catch for 44 yards against Eastern Illinois. He counts that as one of his favorite moments on the field.

Already, Carr has locked up more receiving yards in his 2015 season than all of last year. In 2014, he racked up 100 yards with seven receptions compared to this year’s 177 yards with eight catches.

He said that although far from perfect, he has been on the field more because of his improvement and work in the offseason.

“It’s been a journey filled with relentlessness,” he said, adding that buying into the program and listening to his coaches has helped his development.

Springer listed Carr as a player who has battled for the Cats to get wins.

“He’s worked his tail off,” he said. “When his number’s called, he’s been ready to go.”

That ethic helped Carr earn the scholarship, he said.

More generally, Springer said he has a group of fighters in his wide receivers who want to do anything they can to help the team have success.

Without Carr winning his one-on-one on Saturday, the Cats could have very well lost. Senior wide receiver Christian Jones stressed the importance of an active receiving corps such as this.

“If we’re not playing well and we’re not winning our battles … then the defense can do what they want to do,” he said.

Huzaifa Patel contributed reporting.

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Twitter: @StephanieKellyM