Nov. 22, 2000
By Jacob Barker Clemson Sports Information Graduate AssistantThe South Carolina Game Program – November 18, 2000
Over his career at Clemson, senior Robert Carswell has made a name for himself as one of the best strong safeties in the nation. As impressive as he has been on the gridiron, however, it has been his dedication and service off the field during his career that have truly placed him in a class by himself.
Born in Gary, Indiana, Carswell grew up just a few miles west of South Bend and the University of Notre Dame. He grew up listening to Notre Dame football every Saturday on the radio and as he listened he dreamed of one day wearing a gold helmet and experiencing the mystical powers of the Irish first hand. “Growing up, all everybody wanted to do was play for Notre Dame,” remembered Carswell. “I had that feeling instilled in me as well and I dreamed of playing there all the time.”
That dream took a detour, however, when at age nine Robert and his family moved South to Lithonia, GA. Even after the move, though, Carswell held on to his love for Notre Dame football and his dream one day playing for the Irish.
He attended Stone Mountain High School in Georgia where during his senior year he was a first-team All-State and Parade All-America selection. He was recruited by almost every major college in the country including Florida State, Clemson, Tennessee, and Notre Dame. On his recruiting visit to Notre Dame he nearly committed to the Irish, but at the advice of his parents he decided to take a closer look at several of the other schools.
While visiting Clemson, he was given the opportunity to rub Howard’s Rock and run down the hill. His father accompanied Rober down the hill and it was at that moment that Robert realized how important it would be for him to be able to have his family in the stands at every home game.
The night before signing day, Carswell tossed and turned in his sleep as he struggled to sort through his life long dream of playing for Notre Dame and the importance of staying close to home. The next morning he took two letters of intent, one from Notre Dame and one from Clemson, with him to school.
“When my coach came to get me in homeroom, I still had both letters of intent in my hands,” recalled Carswell. “When I walked into the library where we were making the announcement, I saw my parents standing there smiling and I knew then what my decision would be.”
“In high school my whole family would go out to eat after every one of my games and I wanted to be able to do that in college. If I went to Notre Dame I would not have been able to experience that nearly as often. I am very close with my family. They are a big part of me and I am a big part of them.”
After arriving at Clemson in the fall of 1997, it did not take long for Carswell to make an immediate impact for the Tigers. In the seventh game of his freshman season against Maryland, he made his first career start as he filled in at strong safety for an injured Antwan Edwards. In that game, he registered 11 tackles and broke up three passes in Clemson’s 20-9 victory over the Terrapins.
Since that game, Carswell has started 39 consecutive games and he has established himself as leader of the Clemson secondary. Prior to this season, he was a first-team All-America selection by several publications including Street and Smith and Football News. He was listed as the number-one free-safety in the nation by Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine tabbed him as the third-ranked candidate for the Thorpe Award which is the award given annually to the nation’s top defensive back. Just last week he was named a semifinalist for that award, one of the top 12 defensive backs in the nation.
Coming into today’s game against South Carolina, Carswell is ranked sixth on Clemson’s all-time tackles list with 351 and earlier this season he set the Clemson record for most career tackles by a defensive back. In Clemson’s last three games, Carswell has averaged over 10 tackles per game and had a season tying high of 11 tackles two weeks ago against Florida State, including nine in an active first half.
Last season, his 129 total tackles set the Clemson record for most tackles in a season by a defensive back and against Virginia Tech he had a career high 16 tackles. In that game, he also picked off two Michael Vick passes deep in Clemson territory.
As impressive as Carswell’s accomplishments have been in football, his work off the field and in the community are what have made him so important for Clemson. He has always felt a special bond with young fans and as a result he is constantly looking for ways to share his time and comradery with children in the community. “I just like being around children because they are genuine,” Carswell said. “They always speak their minds and their facial expressions are so much fun to watch.”
Just as he made an early impact on the football field for the Tigers, it did not take long for him to have a tremendous impact in the community as well. During the second semester of his freshman year, he drove to Anderson every Monday afternoon to spend time with underprivileged kids at a local alternative school. “If I can reach just one of those children and turn them on the right career path, then I have accomplished my goal,” said Carswell. “Helping those kids means much more to me than anything I do on the football field.”
He has been a four-year member of Clemson’s LIFELINE program, which is an organization of Clemson football players selected to represent their team as leaders in the community. Through their service in the community, these players enhance their leadership skills and develop career skills that will better serve them in the future.
“Every opportunity you get, you have to present yourself well because somebody is always going to be looking at you,” Carswell stated. “You just never know, that one person might be the person that models himself after you. If they see you misbehaving or acting the wrong way, then he or she will think that it is okay for them to act that way.”
Through the staff at Vickery Hall and the leadership of Bill D’Andrea, Clemson has established a very successful community outreach program. “Robert demonstrated the leadership qualities we needed very early on his career,” said D’Andrea. “We could see that he was very interested in the program and he has been very involved with it ever since. We have a lot of student-athletes who give their time to community service, but very few put in as much time as Robert Carswell.”
For his extraordinary work in the community, Carswell was named to the American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team for 1999. The team honors student-athletes who show exceptional dedication to charitable organizations, service groups, or other services activities within the community. He was one of only 11 Division I football players in the nation to be selected to the team and it was the first time a Clemson player had ever been selected.
For Carswell, his favorite community service activities are ones that combine his two favorite pastimes, working with kids and playing football. “Every time I go home I get all the kids in the neighborhood together and we play tackle football in my parents front yard,” Carswell chuckled. “I put on my Peach Bowl jersey, they put on their team jersey, and it is basically like one big carnival. The kids are always asking my parents when I am going coming home again, but when I get home though they are always rough on me. I could have played a great game the week before but they always get on me about the plays I messed up on.”
Carswell’s love for children extends into his academic career as well. He is a secondary education major and hopes to one day follow in the footsteps of his older brother James and pursue a career in teaching. “I just want to give back to the community in any way I can and teaching is one way I feel that I could do that,” Carswell said.
Although he still follows Notre Dame football, Carswell has been extremely happy with his decision to attend Clemson. “I am so happy with my decision to come to Clemson,” he said. “I have done almost everything that I have wanted to do and most importantly, my parents have gotten the chance to see me play almost every game.”
Ironically, the head coach on the opposing sideline of today’s game will be the same coach Carswell grew up admiring as a child in Indiana. “I grew up watching Lou Holtz,” Carswell remembered.
“I used to love watching him walk the sideline and then kneel down to pick grass. Whenever I am coaching kids in the neighborhood I always pace up and down the sideline and pick grass just like Coach Holtz does. He is a great coach and his track record speaks for itself.”
While Carswell will most certainly have an opportunity to make it at the next level, for now he is focused on helping Clemson continue to climb back into the national spotlight of college football. “After going 3-8 my sophomore year and 6-6 last season, I would like to think that I have played an important part in helping to turn this program around,” he stated. “We still have a great deal left to do this season but I am very excited with what we have been able to accomplish.”
It comes as no surprise that when he is asked about his most memorable moments on the football field, Carswell deflects the conversation to focus the attention on the accomplishments of his teammates. “The things I have enjoyed most over my career have been the things that I have seen other people do,” he stated. “Whether it be the big catches Rod made against North Carolina this year, the big plays Terry Jolly had last year against Duke, those are the type plays I will remember most. I could go on and on, but it is those type of plays that other guys have made that are the ones that really stand out it my mind.”
With today’s game being the last home game of his career, Carswell admits it is going to be difficult getting off the bus knowing that it will be the last time he will rub Howard’s and run down the hill. “I am really going to miss the comraderie of the team and everyone coming together for one common goal,” he said. “Standing at the top of the hill in a sea of orange and rubbing the rock is something very special. Getting to the bottom of the hill and seeing the Tiger and the balloons and are all things that I am going to miss but that I will never forget.”
Over his career, Robert Carswell has been an unselfish leader who has let his actions on the football field and in the community speak for themselves. He has represented Clemson with class and integrity both on and off the football field and it is certain that he will continue to do so even after his days playing days as a Tiger are over.
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