Syracuse has had some talented wide receivers over the years. Many of which played in the NFL. One such player was Rob Carpenter, who played for the Orange for two seasons in 1989 and 1990. During his career at Syracuse, he had 96 catches for 1,699 yards and 10 receiving touchdowns. During the 1989 season, in addition to his five receiving touchdowns, he had one rushing and one passing touchdown.
But his road to Syracuse was not the traditional road out of high school. He spend a year at Notre Dame before transferring to play for Syracuse for a couple of years.
"I actually went somewhere else out of high school," Carpenter recalled. "I went to Notre Dame for a year. Being there for a year didn't really equate to Notre Dame at all. It just wasn't the right place for me. Right after my first year there, my freshman year, I decided to transfer. Paul Pasqualoni was actually the guy who was recruiting Long Island at the time. I got in contact with him and pretty much it was a done deal.
"Syracuse was right on my radar from the time I was in high school. I was always a Syracuse fan growing up. It was New York's football university of course, at that point in time. It was a done deal. I pretty much knew it was going to be the best place for me to go. As far as transferring, I had a choice between Syracuse, West Virginia, and Michigan State. After that it was just to get in and do the best I could at that point in time."
Carpenter looks back on his playing days fondly. He remembers raucous crowds, big name opponents, and a lot of wins. But it was also his teammates that mode that time special for the former Syracuse standout.
"Going back to my playing days, those home games were always sold out," Carpenter explained. "That was pretty much the best part of playing in the Dome. The crowd was always into it. We were, at that point in time, a top-25 team. So we were always playing good teams. The competition level was always great. Since we had a lot of talent, it was always fun playing up there. It was a time where Syracuse was pretty much known as wide receiver university. That was always a fun thing.
"Another thing was playing with my old roommate Rob Moore. It was always fun playing the game with him. We would go out against other teams and just have fun playing the game. We were from the same area so that made it even more special."
Carpenter is very active on twitter and other social media. That has helped Carpenter to stay in touch with his former teammates.
"Yes I do keep in touch," he said. "Quite a few of them. There's actually a Facebook page for us. It has everyone from that time on there. And I do personally keep in touch with some of the guys I went to school with at that time. Of course I went to the NFL for a years after leaving Syracuse. So there were guys that I went to school with that went onto other things. But I do keep in touch with quite a few guys.
"I haven't been able to speak to Rob as much as I would like. But I have spoken to him quite a few times. I've spoken to him this year as well during the season."
After playing at Syracuse, Carpenter was drafted in 1991 by the Cincinnati Bengals in the fourth round. During his NFL career, he played for the New England Patriots, New York Jets, and Philadelphia Eagles. He had 51 receptions for 607 yards and one touchdown in his career. During his only season with the Eagles, he compiled a career high 29 receptions and 318 yards. He was third on the team in both categories among wide receivers. The 1995 season with the Eagles was the only year he played in the playoffs, where they went 1-1.
The transition from college to the pros is difficult for most. Carpenter realized some of the big differences right away.
"First and foremost, when you step away from the college game, it's a business," he offered. "You know that from the beginning. It's 24-7 working on your craft. When you're up there at that level it's much different. People talk about the speed of the game at that level. It is different. You have to pay attention with what's going on. You have to, pretty much, be professional, for lack of a better term. If you want to be on that level you have to actually put in work to stay at that level.
"Besides my first year in New York the year that I really had that opportunity was in Philadelphia. Unfortunately I got hurt the next year. But I was a five year vet at that point in time. The team was new. You pretty much just have to go in and work. That was one time where I didn't have to worry about the business of the game. Everything was new. The coaching staff was new. Pretty much, the best players were going to play which was said to everyone. You just go out and be yourself and play like you know how to play. That's basically what I did. That's when the game actually became fun again."
"In one aspect where the college game was just a fun thing," Carpenter continued. "You didn't really have to worry about being a professional at that point in time. You were still a college kid. Stepping away from the game itself, you could enjoy college life because you were a college kid. When you're a professional, that's pretty much what it is 24-7.
"In terms of family, you get to spend time with them a little bit. But you have to be a professional at all times at that level. That's basically the biggest difference from being at college. You can enjoy that college experience when you're a college kid away from the game."
Since his retirement from the NFL, Carpenter has been able to keep tabs on how things have progressed at Syracuse. He has been impressed with the job the staff has done, and the resolve the players have shown.
"I've been keeping in touch with what's been going on since I left on a regular basis," Carpenter announced. "I think they are headed in the right direction. I do believe they will be able to get back to the way things were pretty quick with Syracuse moving to the ACC. That's going to be a big recruiting thing for them. Kids from around the country are seeing a lot of Syracuse this year. They were on TV a lot this year.
"They started out pretty slow, but the way the season progressed, you saw the team get progressively better as the season went on. I am pretty proud of the guys with the way they stuck together and were able to end the season. I think the game against Missouri was a great finish to that game."
Despite staying on top of how the Orange are doing this year, he was not able to get to the Dome for a game. However, he did attend New York's College Classic. He believes that game is what allowed Syracuse to turn their season around.
"I was only able to attend one game this year," Carpenter admitted. "That was because my son is a freshman in college and all of his games were coinciding with Syracuse games. I did get to see the USC game in person. I had the opportunity to do that. I was actually down on the sidelines during the game. Seeing the way the team progressed through the rest of the season from that game. You could see in that game, seeing it up close and personally, the team gained a lot of confidence from that game playing against USC. That showed for the rest of the season."
One of the best players for Syracuse during the second half of the season has been Alec Lemon. Carpenter has been impressed with what Lemon has been able to do. He believes Lemon can still improve and looks like an NFL prospect.
"I do think Alec Lemon is an NFL player," Carpenter declared. "One of the things you have to do first, and you'll hear this from the coaching staff and the receivers coach, the first thing you have to do is catch the ball. That's first and foremost. He's learning from one of the best guys to have actually played the game in Rob Moore.
"It was unfortunate that Alec had to have the slow start to the season with his injury. But once he got over that, you could see the type of player he is. He's a guy that can play at the NFL level and play there for a while."
Syracuse has moved on from the familiar Big East, which means a change from some of the teams Carpenter was used to facing year in and year out. He understands the landscape of where things are now, but believes there are still improvements that can be made to the current system.
"Everybody can see that the NCAA is heading towards four mega conferences with realignment," Carpenter said. "It's kind of been heading that way for a while. The SEC is the top dog in college football at this point in time. But the way teams are spread out and moving to conferences you can see, we will see, more than a four team playoff that's coming after this season. I don't believe that's going to be enough.
"I hear all the time where people say that four teams in is overkill. But they're doing it at the FCS level. More than four teams are playing in the playoffs there, so it can be done. Basically, you can see from this year, if you even lose one game your season is basically over. And as you can see, there's about a month or longer from the end of the season until the bowls so there's enough time to get it in there. It would pretty much be the smartest thing they could do."
The future of Syracuse is bright, according to some, with Doug Marrone at the helm. The former Syracuse wide receiver agrees with that sentiment, and sees big things ahead for the Orange as they prepare for their move to the ACC.
"I think in five years, I hope this program is back to where it was in the 80's and 90's," Carpenter outlined. "The same for ten years. The teams in the late 80's and early 90's were perennial top-25 teams. Recruits actually wanted to go to Syracuse. You got some of the top recruits from around the country to go to Syracuse. That kept the program up. Players on the team were always going to be in good academic standing, so you never had to worry about that. The way it looks, moving to the ACC, I do believe that's where the team should be in five years. Just like the time when I was there.
"Things would have to fall in place to win a national championship. But just like you saw this year with Notre Dame, they were struggling the last few years, but everything fell into place for them this year. If you get the right recruits that play together for a few years, it could definitely happen. Just like in 1987. Those guys has been together. That actually does make a difference. When you have guys that have played together for a while, you see the result of that on the field. So things could fall into place and get Syracuse into that picture."