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Craig Carey's big adventure, part I

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Craig Carey used to talk to former UC quarterbacks coach Greg Forest about it all the time. When the Bearcats special teams units were running through their drills at practice and they had a little time to kill, Forest would watch Carey run receiver routes and catch passes from Tony Pike, Zach Collaros and Chazz Anderson. Then, Forest would teach and encourage.

 

Carey - a former Bearcats quarterback, defensive end and linebacker - had a shot to play pro ball, Forest told him. But his chance wouldn't occur at any of the positions he played in college. Instead, in order to find a spot in the NFL, he'd have to return to a position he hadn't played since his junior year of high school. He'd have to play tight end.

 

"Coach Forest was always giving me feedback and he felt I could play tight end at the next level," Carey said. "That helped me with my mindset that I should give this a shot."

 

As Carey prepares for UC's Pro Day on March 10 - where those Bearcats who are hopeful long shots have a chance to impress the NFL scouts - Carey's mindset is sound. He's confident - perhaps, he laughs, overly-confident - and he really feels he has a chance to impress those who are on campus in nine days.

 

He says this in the bowels of the Lindner Center as he and Connor Barwin prepare to work out in the UC weight room. It's a place where he spends much of his time these days.

 

He drives to Mason every morning to train at Ignition, and lately, former La Salle and Bowling Green quarterback Tyler Sheehan has been showing up a couple times a week to throw to him. When Carey isn't catching passes, he's working on his 40-yard dash and his shuttle run times, focusing on perfecting his start and molding his technique.

 

Then, he'll grab some lunch and head to the UC weight room for a few hours of sweating and grunting. He'll finish the day by playing basketball with Barwin - who's also in town keeping himself in shape before he prepares for his second season with the Houston Texans.

 

"We play basketball, because you have to have a little shake to you," Carey said. "We're always going against each other to stay loose. We don't play one-on-one, but he did beat me in H-O-R-S-E the other day. Which is embarrassing, because he's not a very good shooter and I pride myself on my jumper."

 

And, oh yeah, Carey's still taking classes on Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday night, Thursday morning and afternoon, and on Friday to earn his degree.

 

"That's right," he said. "I actually forgot about that. But I throw that into my days as well. I wish I would have graduated earlier, because it would have made this a lot easier."

 

It's not easy for Carey, and that's probably appropriate, because his path to the NFL certainly won't be a simple one. Heck, it's almost impossible.

 

But he's also getting some indirect help from some of the Bearcats stars of the past. Now that the Bearcats have become a major player on the national scene and because now they're getting recognized for it by teams in the NFL - let's face it, UC has put plenty of players into pro ball, but the Bearcats weren't exactly considered Florida or Ohio State when it came to pro prospects - that only helps a guy like Carey.

 

Think most NFL teams won't be at UC on March 10, even if it's only to see Mardy Gilyard and Tony Pike? They will. Think a fringe prospect can't get noticed due in part to an extraordinary Pro Day? Ask Haruki Nakamura about that. If the scouts are there and Carey has a great day, that could bring a big boost to his pro dreams.

 

"I've always been a confident person," Carey said. "Going through the process, I always feel I have that shot to make it at the next level. Whether teams see that and see my ability, that's different because I haven't played as much as pretty much any person that's going to get drafted."

 

Still, an unknown can make a big impact if he impresses the right team at the right time. Transforming himself into a tight end might just be the way to do it.

 

"That's the thing: if anybody else was trying to do what he's doing, it doesn't sound like a good idea," Barwin said. "But then people that know him say, 'Ah, it might work.' You sit there and think about it, and you think about if he was a big recruit in high school. Look at his physical body. And look at what he did in college to what happened to him at quarterback to getting bounced around on defense. Why they didn't move him to offense? You start to think about that, and you say, 'You know? Maybe it will work.'"

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