Former Texas Tech OL Brandon Carter offers insight into this season

HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 23: Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Texas Tech Red Raiders watches warm up before playing against the Houston Cougars at TDECU Stadium on September 23, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 23: Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Texas Tech Red Raiders watches warm up before playing against the Houston Cougars at TDECU Stadium on September 23, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images) /

Former Texas Tech OG Brandon Carter had a storied career as a Red Raider. Now, he’s opening up and reflecting on his career, as it relates to the current state of the program.

Texas Tech Football has gone through two coaches since the departure of Mike Leach, but one thing has remained the same: the urgency to maintain an explosive offense. Quarterback after quarterback, Tech has continued to carry the Air Raid torch, however, the team as a whole couldn’t strike a balance where it mattered.

For many former players, they see improvement in this 2017 squad, but there’s a lot fans simply don’t know about the process it takes to cultivate a team that wins both on the field, and in their personal lives.

From adversity, time management, and eliminating the noise, Brandon Carter has a lot to contribute to the conversation, and it’s important to hear from those who lived through the process to understand the progression.

One of the most common memories of Brandon Carter’s time at Texas Tech was unfortunately, the worst moment in his career. He was suspended in 2009 by Mike Leach after violating team rules. The suspicion was always that Carter was standing up for his team, and was met with a force that didn’t appreciate his leadership.

This happens more than teams or players are willing to admit.

There’s been a lot of restlessness in the fan base since Leach was fired, and much of the response has been in relation to the belief that “at least Leach won.” Be that as it may, he lost the locker room at Texas Tech, which created a shaky environment even after his departure.

A question Carter gets asked a lot is what was going through his mind when he was suspended. After a long pause, he said, “To be honest, I was just extremely frustrated because I felt I had been given an unfair treatment for standing up for my team, and that was the toughest pill for me to swallow.” Carter said it was the first time in four years as a starter where he wasn’t going to be suiting up, “I put it all out there; those were my brothers, and the guys I stood up for. It was tough, but I stand by what I did.” Carter notes the reasons why he stood up were because they lost a game, and it was at the expense of internal issues the team was facing; a team he was a leader of.

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Obviously that experience was the worst in Carter’s entire playing career, and reflection is always important, but things changed after the incident. I asked him how he battle back, and what he learned from it. After another long pause, he said that was the first time he’d ever been asked those questions.

“That’s a hard question to answer. To be honest… when I came back that next week to play Nebraska, nothing was the same inside the football facility until the departure of Mike Leach.” He said, “I won’t say it necessarily lit a fire underneath me to play harder, but I will say I played for a different cause at that point, and I think the entire roster–or most of–played for the same reason, and I think we almost altogether had given up to an extent on the leadership of Leach.” Carter continued to say that, “We were no longer playing for Leach, we were playing for each other. And at that point, I guess I was going to give it everything I had to my team because I owed it to them, myself, the University, and my family to finish out my duty at Texas Tech. They gave me a lot, so I owed it to them.”

When players give up on leadership, it typically flies well under the radar. Players are trying to get to the next level, and outside drama can affect or influence whether teams are willing to take that gamble. With that said, it’s important for fans to take cues from the players themselves to determine the internal health of a program.

On how much outside influence is affecting Texas Tech right now, Carter said, “The players are 100 percent behind Kingsbury.” He continued, “Texas Tech will always have ‘Restless Dans’ that want things now, and that will always be an issue. Leach had unbelievable success and you have no idea how many times after we’d lose, fans would want him gone. We’re always going to have to deal with fans like that.” Carter says it’s obvious the team wants to play for Kingsbury, and that he has their respect, but more importantly, he’s established good, solid values players have bought into. “Players who left didn’t buy into Kingsbury’s vision, and good luck to them.” Said Carter. “When I played for Leach, we had many talented kids, but they didn’t work out for us because they didn’t see the vision or path. They succeeded elsewhere, but they weren’t for us. That’s not an issue for the guys playing for Kingsbury, and frankly, Tech fans should be happy with the men and talent the program is producing.”

When players have their backs against the wall, it’s hard to find motivation sometimes, and this is the part in the interview with Carter that got raw. “There were few times in my career when I thought about quitting.” He said. “Due to family issues, emotional stress, and playing with a broken back for three years. I was in so much pain I couldn’t take it anymore.” Every football player has obstacles in their lives, but for Carter, he’s thankful he didn’t give into his temptations and didn’t give up. It’s the mental conditioning few talk about, but those are the character building obstacles that make men out of athletes.

It’s easy for those who haven’t experienced the realities of being a collegiate athlete, and Carter was sure to point that out. “Unless you’ve been through it, you would never know what it’s like. The physical aspect, most people can’t fathom.” Carter continued, “The physical part is the easy part; the hard part is the emotional roller coaster you go through because you put yourself through so much exertion for a common goal with100 teammates and a staff that works tirelessly. And when you come up short, nobody is more upset than the guys on the field.”

Media can write and scrutinize a team all they want to, and so can fans, but, as Carter wants people to realize, “Some of the stuff you read about yourself can get you down, but at the end of the day it has no weight because these people have no clue what it’s like. Those people who say ‘I was all district in high school’, they think they know what difficulty is when it comes to athleticism, but they have no clue. The difference between high school and college is almost a different sport, just because of what you have to put into it. From studying on the plane ride home at 2 a.m. when you leave at midnight, that’s your reality. And you might get to see your family for a few hours, but you have to report back at 10 a.m. and do it all over again the following week. It’s demanding.”

Every week it’s a different story. From “Kingsbury has this team on the right path.” To “Coach Bro needs to go,” there’s a reason why fans aren’t in charge of the hiring process. For starters, it creates chaos, and while Carter’s senior season was Leach’s final year at Texas Tech, he went through three NFL teams, so he knows what the coaching turnover can do to disrupt progression–both physically and mentally.

“People were impatient with [David] Gibbs, but now you’re starting to see things come into fruition. Players have had time to learn, and you’re seeing a much better product. Span that over a decade and think of the success you’ll find. A revolving door is not the best way to reach success.” Carter stressed that it takes time to build, but a factor few consider in the coaching process is finding coaches who buy in to the values, program, and fit with the schematics. It’s much more complex than caving to pressure, and hoping to assemble a dream team overnight, especially with a limited budget.

I asked Carter two very blunt questions on how he felt Kliff Kingsbury was progressing as a coach. He said, “To be honest, minus the second-half against WVU, I have thought we’ve been moving in the right direction, and I still think we can make this a successful year, I just hope we can learn from this game, and continue to build on momentum.” Carter continued, “We’ve taken steps in the right direction every week, so I don’t think WVU is a complete loss. There are a lot of great things about this team; things that could be fixed, mistakes that need to be cleaned up, but don’t give up on the program, or Kliff.”

On those improvements, Carter said, “They’ve done things Leach couldn’t do. We never had 300 yards rushing. If we get things cleaned up now, it could be a very successful season, and nobody will have anything talk about. I’m confident in Kingsbury after this season, for sure. I wasn’t sure what to expect at the beginning of the season, but from what I’ve seen in progression, I think the staff have done great things–the entire team has. We just hit a bump in the road and its time to go back to the drawing board.”

When it comes to social media’s favorite hot take debate of “Leach versus Kingsbury,” Carter said, “I don’t know exactly what Kingsbury’s mindset is. It’s easy for me to comment on Leach because I had such a close relationship with him, but Leach never looked at the scoreboard. Whether we were up or down, he’d always say, ‘You have to squeeze their throat when they’re down; you have to finish’, and I have thought this to be true.” Carter thinks that if Texas Tech had that mentality, opponents would have been put away much faster, but taking their feet off the gas allowed teams to linger, and come back to win, as was the case with Oklahoma State, and West Virginia. “I just think it just comes down to urgency,” Said Carter. “Leach was great at instilling that.”

“Squeezing throats” and running up the scoreboard at a relentless pace was Mike Leach’s signature on the world of football, something Carter refers to as a “value he instilled in his players’ minds.” He said, “Even when we did mess up, and we did have issues closing a game, if it was due to our own faults and shooting ourselves in the foot, that next week, we were basically put through the ringer so we wouldn’t forget that we had to finish.”

Kingsbury might have a different approach on how he speaks or drives messages home, but both he and Carter played under Leach, so they both heard the same message, “The buzzards aren’t leaving until the game is over, so we might as well put it out there.” Whether opportunities were squandered, or statistics were padded, the mindset of anyone involved with this crazy world of football, is that you have to keep going.

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