Nov. 25, 1999
by Tim Bourret Printed in the Florida State Game Program (October 23, 1999)
James and Roberta Carswell have always been positive role models for their son, Robert. From the time Robert Carswell was a young man, they served as a guiding light through the challenges of daily life. That light was never so bright in February of 1997 when Robert was pondering his decision as to his future as a college student-athlete.
Courted by nearly every major school in the nation, including recent National Champions Nebraska, Florida State and Tennessee, Carswell narrowed his decision to Clemson and Notre Dame. He had spent much of his youth in Gary, IN, just a few miles down interstate 80 from the Golden Dome. As a youngster, he dreamed of the day he would touch the “Play like a Champion Today” sign in the Notre Dame home locker room, and run through the famed Notre Dame Stadium tunnel in a gold helmet.
But, Carswell’s high school years were spent in Lithonia, GA, just a few miles down interstate 85 from Clemson, SC. A recruiting visit to Clemson, SC made touching Howard’s Rock, and running down the hill into Death Valley in an orange helmet very attractive.
“On signing day I brought two national letters of intent to school,” recalled Carswell. “I had one from Clemson and one from Notre Dame. When my coach came to get me in homeroom, I still had both letters of intent in my hand. I walked into the library where we were making the announcement and looked at my parents.
“I knew if I signed with Notre Dame they might only see me play in person four times in four years, but if I came to Clemson they could see me play almost every week. That was very important to me. My parents had always come to my games from the time I was little. I remember times when it was raining and we were losing 48-0, but they were still there rooting for me on every play.”
The positive influence of his parents is prevalent in all aspects of Carswell’s life. Off the field, he is perhaps the most active high profile student-athlete at Clemson in terms of community service. That has been the case since his freshman year.
In his second semester as a Clemson Tiger (winter of 1998), Carswell drove to Anderson, SC on Monday afternoons to spend time at an alternative school where he would meet with teens who had trouble adapting to adolescence. “I would just go over there and hang out with them,” said Carswell.
“They were some youngsters who had gotten in trouble and needed some guidance. I just tried to let them know there are positive aspects to life, a right and wrong way to do things and a path to success. In general, I just tried to convey a positive message to them about life. They weren’t bad people, they just needed something positive in their life.”
While Clemson has a successful and rewarding community service program through the leadership of Bill D’Andrea and the staff at Vickery Hall, this was extraordinary demonstration of community involvement, especially for a freshman.
“Robert Carswell showed great interest in this program and leadership qualities at a very early stage,” said D’Andrea. “We could see he had a keen interest in this program, so he has been very involved. We have a lot of student-athletes who give their time to community service, speaking to groups. Very few put in as much time as Robert Carswell.”
Carswell has continued his work in this area. Whether it is speaking to a church group, or high school class or an elementary school, Carswell has been a positive role model for the youngsters and a positive representative of Clemson University.
His time spent in this extra curricular activity/vocation is so extraordinary that he was named to the American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team for 1999. He was one of just 11 Division I football players in the nation named to this team, the first time a Clemson player has been selected. The team honors student-athletes who show exceptional dedication to community service and to the betterment of the communities in which they live.
Carswell speaks to an array of groups, and he gives a different message to each. “With the little kids you can only talk a few minutes because they don’t have a long attention span,” said Carswell with a chuckle. “I bring them posters and tell them about football and usually read a short book to them. With the older students I try to stress the value of an education. I tell them to stay in school as long as they can and listen to and respect their teachers.”
The graduate of Stone Mountain High School enjoys visiting schools and that is a good thing because he is a secondary education major. His older brother, a former football player at Presbyterian, is a secondary school teacher in Atlanta. Robert hopes to join him professionally as a teacher and eventually as a principal when his playing days are over.
But, the way he has played in his first three years at Clemson, it might be a while before he sits behind a desk. Carswell, who has switched from strong safety to free safety this year, is the leading tackler among defensive backs in the ACC this year and ranks among the top three in the league overall. He has been in the top 20 in the nation in interceptions since he picked off two passes at Virginia Tech. A preseason candidate for the Jim Thorpe Award (top defensive back in the nation), Carswell has lived up to his preseason billing.
“Robert Carswell is everything you want in a free safety,” said Tiger Head Coach Tommy Bowden. “He is an outstanding tackler, our last line of defense. Many times this year he has made touchdown saving tackles. Plus, he has been solid on pass coverage. He is capable of making the big hit and also capable of making the big interception. He has been one of the leaders of this team since I arrived.” With the position switch has come more responsibility for Carswell. But, as a starter since the sixth game of his freshman year, he relishes the challenge. “I have always liked to be in the middle of the action,” said Carswell. “It is a challenge to cover all of that territory out there, but in our defense the free safety has to make a lot of big plays and that is the way I like it.”
Carswell was at his best this year at Virginia Tech when he recorded a career high 16 tackles in 68 plays. He also had the first two interceptions of his career. Both thefts took place in the shadow of the Clemson goalpost, prohibiting Virginia Tech touchdowns or at least field goals. For his efforts he was named ACC Defensive Back of the Week.
Tonight, against Florida State he will face his stiffest test. No matter who the Seminoles line up at wide receiver, Carswell will have his hands full covering the fleet of future NFL wideouts on Bobby Bowden’s roster, or tackling the fleet-of-foot Florida State running backs.
No matter what the result, Carswell will give his all on every down. And, James and Roberta Carswell will be in attendance cheering for him on every down as well.
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