Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Derek Carr takes a deep breath because it’s hard to explain.
The 22-year-old quarterback knows the promise of what’s just ahead of him, the millions he’s guaranteed to make by getting taken early in the NFL Draft a few months from now. He’s more intimated with the process than most in his position, having watched his older brother, David, go through it as the No. 1 overall pick 11 years ago.
But Carr doesn’t exude an overwhelming eagerness about it all. Not yet anyway.
As a youngster following every minute detail of his brother’s career, it wasn’t the fame and fortune that drove Carr to someday do the same. It was what came before that, what Carr is finishing off now — a legendary tenure as the quarterback at Fresno State.
“This is what I wanted,” Carr said. “I wish I could play football for 20 years at Fresno.”
He’ll finish off the maximum-allowable quarter of that — Derek redshirted in 2010 for a five-year college stay — at 12:30 Saturday afternoon at Sam Boyd Stadium in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl against USC. Carr said much is at stake beyond boosting his already-budding draft stock.
He came to Fresno State with goals of becoming a well-respected presence for the whole community, not just the football team, by winning championships and bowl games. He’s gone above on delivering the first two.
By all accounts, Carr is beloved by his Bulldog teammates and Red Wave faithful — Fresno State’s nickname for its fans — alike.
“He’s everything you could ever want,” coach Tim DeRuyter said.
Carr’s gotten to the revered level by leading the Bulldogs to Mountain West championships in each of the past two years, their first two as part of the conference. His only bowl appearance came last season, however, and ended in a bust. Carr tossed a couple interceptions as SMU clobbered his team 43-10 in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.
As much as the Carr family has achieved at Fresno State, there’s a glaring omission from their overall legacy. Neither Derek nor David ever won a bowl game. Saturday brings the final opportunity.
“It’s weird looking into my last college game,” Carr said. “But we keep saying it: We’re a great football team, and we want to show it against a great opponent.”
Carr is motivated not only because of the stature of USC’s program but also its productivity on defense. The Trojans stop unit rates as the toughest the Bulldogs have faced all year — and maybe in Carr’s career — with top-25 rankings in defensive categories across the board.
Of course, Carr is No. 1 in most statistical measures for quarterbacks. Among others, he leads the nation in yards, completions and touchdowns.
“He has a strong arm, very accurate,” USC quarterback Cody Kessler said about Carr. “I think the best thing about him is the way he handles himself, the way he goes about his business. A lot of guys have talent but don’t put in the extra work. He goes above and beyond.”
Kessler, a sophomore, would know. He grew up with Carr in Bakersfield, Calif., where both of their families were close friends.
Kessler and Carr train together in the offseason and text frequently when away at their respective campuses. They even coached a high-school All Star game together last year in Bakersfield, leading their team to victory.
Kessler’s feelings about Carr shadow those DeRuyter reported as prevalent at Fresno State. His long-time buddy is special and poised to find success in the NFL, Kessler said.
“He’s someone you look up to,” Kessler said. “He’s someone you model yourself after because, in my opinion, he’s going to be a top five pick in the draft and he deserves it.”