BERKELEY -- After spending 13 seasons in the NFL, California football alum Andre Carter is back in Berkeley to become a University of California graduate, and while he's here, he's going to be doing a little coaching.
Living about two blocks from campus and working with both defensive tackles and defensive ends, alike, Carter -- a unanimous All-American in 2000, before becoming the seventh-overall pick in the NFL Draft in 2001 -- is learning the ropes of coaching, after having tried his hand at broadcasting. The Pro Bowler actually got the coaching bug not from his father, Rubin -- who's still coaching defensive line at Purdue -- but from helping out current Bears freshman Trevor Howard, starting two years ago in Thousand Oaks, Calif., where both live, and where Carter moved in 2010 for a "change of scenery."
"When I told my dad I wanted to coach, he said, 'I knew you'd come around,'" Carter laughed.
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Of course, Carter had already started, in a sense. He acknowledges that tutoring Howard was his gateway drug, in a sense, to getting back into the game.
"I worked with Trevor, because he lived n the same neighborhood over in Thousand Oaks, so I had an opportunity to work with him when he was doing some pass rushing camps, and I talked to his dad -- his dad always saw me working out, and we talked about pass rush," says Carter. "I had my chance to help mold him, put my hands on him, get him right. I talked to my wife, I talked to my dad, and they said, 'This is your passion.'"
Carter -- who played at Cal from 1997 to 2000 (and who came to Berkeley because of the 1996 Aloha Bowl, he says) -- has three classes to take in the fall, and three more in the spring, after having already taken three classes over six weeks in the summer ("It was a grind," he smiles. "It was six weeks, 100 miles per hour, that'll get to you, but I passed, thank goodness"), and plans on following up his time as a student assistant with a stint as a graduate assistant, though he knows those slots are limited.
“That’s the plan, but I know with the graduate assistant, they can only have so many on staff, so it’s all about opportunity, but at least, being here, I can keep the wheels running, and whoever I talk to – Cal or a different establishment – at least they know that I’m serious, as far as developing into a great coach," said Carter.
Having retired in 2013, only two seasons have passed since the last time Carter played, and he looks like he still can.
"About a year after I retired, I'd checked into different avenues," Carter told BearTerritory in an exclusive one-on-one. "One was commentating and radio. It was great, but did I really love it? No, not really. With football, everybody's trying to find their niche, where they fit, and I looked at TV commentating because people told me I have a great voice, and I'm personable. But, there's a certain art to it. Was I willing to put forth the time and effort to make that art fit my personality? No, not really. With my experience playing, and being the son of a football coach, this was the right fit. This is that passion.
“The adjustment after football, that goes for anybody who does something for such a long period of time. I talk to journalists, and for whatever reason, they got laid off, and they’re like, ‘I don’t know what to do with my life, because all I know is to write.’ When you’ve done a craft so well, you’re at a crossroads: ‘What am I going to do, and still have that passion?’ It took a while, and at times, it could get frustrating, because I can’t wake up and have a purpose. I know I’m going to work out, and I know I’m going to prepare for my opponent, I know Saturday I can sleep well and Sunday, kick butt – I went cold turkey. Of course, you’re going to have those questions about where you fit in the world.”
Watching games with her husband, Carter's wife Bethany saw how the bit of coaching he did with Howard gave him the itch to get back on the field. And, she knew he had a knack for it.
"She's like, 'You're just so intense, so in-tune when it comes to a big play that the offense made,'" Carter says. "She said, 'You still have that passion,' and I still want to give back."
Carter also worked out with Clay Matthews and other linebackers and defensive ends about playing the run and pass rushing during his two years of "retirement," (he prefers to say, "I didn't retire; I just got old; you can only play for so long").
"Playing almost 20 years of football, you've seen so much, you've done so much, so in the end, I came to the true meaning of who I am, and that's being a coach," says Carter.
Carter didn't always have illusions of being a coach.
"Most players, you ask if they'd ever want to coach, they'd say, 'Nah,' because, from our perspective, we see the coaches come in at four in the morning, I've seen coaches fall asleep on their chair with the lights off, and some coaches have a little cot in their office -- it's a commitment," Carter says. "You've got to love it. Do I love it? Yeah, I love it. I will love it. I'm positive. I'm 100-percent firm that this is what I want to do. I talked to my dad about it, and he coaches on the collegiate level, and he still loves recruiting, he still loves getting out on the road."
Judging by his magnanimous and effusive personality, Carter would be a natural fit as a recruiter, and he's got plenty of NFL bona fides to throw around a prospect's living room. That, though, can only come with an official coaching position. He's still got homework and a family to think about these days.
"I love being on the road, listening to music, listening to tunes, zoning out -- it's like therapy -- but it is a grind," Carter says. "The recruiting aspect is a grind, the mental preparation, knowing your guys, knowing where they fit, the match ups, but I like it. It's the mental chess game of football -- the overall preparation -- week in and week out."
Carter had always planned on coming back to finish his degree, but it was just a matter of when.
"One year goes by, three years go by, seven years go by, my mom and dad were like, 'When are you going back to school?'" Carter says. "15 years later, I'm back. I had plans of coming back and finishing, because this is one of the greatest establishments in the nation. It just has such a high reputation of academic standards, and I wanted to represent myself as a student, as well as an athlete."
While he did want to get into coaching, Carter says, earning his degree was paramount.
“First, it was earning my degree. That always had to be the focal point, especially if I wanted to coach on the collegiate level. Talking to the powers that be, Mohamed Muqtar (everybody knows Mo – Mo’s been around, I think, since the ‘40s, everybody knows Mohamed Muqtar), talking to Andrew McGraw, then having conversations with our head man -- Sorry, I’m out of breath, running with these guys – talking with Sonny Dykes," Carter says, the adrenaline of a practice still pouring out of him. "They knew I wanted to coach, in addition to earning my degree. What a great fit to come back to Cal-Berkeley, where it all began for me.”
He'll now spend the weeks up in Berkeley, as well as select games at Memorial Stadium, while spending weekends at home with his wife and young son, Quincy, aged seven.
"I was a stay-at-home dad, and it was great," Carter says of his life after football. "My son was playing all sports -- he's in club soccer, he does outdoor hockey, a little basketball mechanics, a little football mechanics -- so I was part of his activities. I helped wake him up, combed his hear and he was telling me I was doing it wrong -- it's not how Mommy does it. I'm doing all that stuff. He's giving me heat for something I'm trying to do well."
He still communicates with his son while in Berkeley, via FaceTime, though he'll have to sacrifice a few weekends of being Daddy to be up at Memorial Stadium, prowling the sidelines. He'll still go back to Southern California, though, for his son's club soccer games.
"I'm sure I'll have my Beats by Dre headphones on, walking over the field, getting ready just like my players are getting ready," Carter says. "If you have a passion and a desire to do something great, why not stick with what you know?
"It's home. This is where my career started. I came here in 1995 from San Jose, Oak Grove High School, and continued to flourish here at Cal, and despite our winning record -- or lack thereof -- I still have some great memories with the players that I played with. Langston Walker was here recently, walking around, and we talked about our times staying in Clark Kerr our freshman year to Scott Fujita going from a defensive back to a linebacker -- he was a freak of nature. It was great, from Lyle Setencich to Bill Dutton, who were great mentors to me during my time here, and after I left Cal. The experience was awesome. There are great memories."
Carter says he's being more proactive now than he's ever been as a student, trying to find avenues to continue his education in grad school.
"I've talked to my father and talked to my mentors, and it's a little bit easier now, to a degree, because you have those life experiences," Carter says. "I think the thing that's harder is that it's still Cal. But, I want to be here."
Carter has particularly enjoyed a summer class in Race and Social Media.
"Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, it was so in-depth, talking about the meaning behind representation," Carter says. "Stuart Hall's analysis, look that up. That was very deep. It's Berkeley. It's very analytical, it's to the point. I'm writing notes, but I'm not quite understanding what I wrote. I talk to professors, and she's like, 'You're trying,' and I'm trying to understand this terminology, and she says, 'Welcome back to Cal.'"
Being the oldest kid in class fazed Carter, initially, but no one has yet recognized him as the NFL star he was just a few years ago. The anonymity is refreshing.
"I think they know me, because in class, the teacher will say, 'State your name and where you're from,' and I say, 'I'm a super-senior, '97-2000,'" Carter laughs. "I'm an old guy, coming back. I think that level of introduction was there, but nobody's recognized me. I'm dust in the wind. I'm just a student, just like everybody else."
The return to Berkeley has allowed Carter a chance to reflect on some experiences he didn't take advantage of when he was here 15 years ago.
"It's crazy, because as you walk around campus, the things that you maybe missed out on, visually, as you're leaving the stadium, coming down Bancroft, you see the Bay," Carter says. "I remember my four years here, never seeing that, never stopping, never taking it all in, that breathtaking experience. Out of all these years, I never saw that. Those little things, you're just, 'Wow.'
"I've enjoyed walking around campus, taking it in. This is a great University."
While some old views are new to Carter, there is something objectively new that he's seen: The Simpson Center. He jokes that when he had training table when he was here, they barely had a table. Now, there's a $151 million facility to work in.
"I wish we had this when I was here," he muses. "What took 'em so long? I tell you what, they did a tremendous job. I know the journey wasn't easy, but overall, it was a great facility. The weight room's phenomenal. Me and Tarik Glenn and Langston, we all talk about our training table from then and now, and we're all like, 'Man, I wish we had this. This is heavy. This is great. This is what the athletes work hard for."