Former Benicia High superstar Austin Carr is having such an incredible senior season playing football for Northwestern University, people are starting to take notice.
Carr, who leads the Big Ten in receptions (75), receiving yards (1,102) and touchdowns (12), was named a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award, which honors the “most outstanding receiver” in the nation. Three finalists will be announced next Wednesday and the winner will be revealed at the College Football Awards Show on Dec. 8.
Carr was also named one of three finalists for the 2016 Burlsworth Trophy awarded to the nation’s most outstanding player who began his career as a walk-on. Carr began his career at Northwestern as a walk-on before receiving a full-ride scholarship before the beginning of the 2015 season. The winner will be announced at a ceremony on Dec. 5 in Springdale, Ark., and is presented by the Springdale Rotary Club.
“I’ve never been to Arkansas,” Carr said. “The original goal was to earn a full-ride scholarship and when I got offered that last year, that was a dream come true. Everything after that is just adding on to the dream.”
Carr has been practically unstoppable through 10 games this season against such Big Ten powerhouses as No. 2-ranked Ohio State, No. 6 Wisconsin and No. 19 Nebraska. He has six 100-yard receiving games (including a career-high 158 yards at Ohio State on Oct. 29) and three multi-touchdown games. His 12 TD catches have already tied the Northwestern single-season touchdown reception record, and he’s on pace to set a new single-season mark in receiving yards.
Carr is also on pace to become just the third player since 1990 to lead the Big Ten in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns (Allen Robinson, Penn State, 2012; Desmond Howard, Michigan, 1990). He ranks ninth nationally in receiving yards and receptions per game (7.5) and has caught a touchdown in 8-of-10 games, including a nation-best streak of six consecutive games from Sept. 10 to Oct. 22.
How has Carr – who now routinely makes highlight-film catches – gone from walk-on unknown to one of the best receivers in college football?
“It comes down to being able to win against man coverage,” Carr said. “Over the years that’s something I’ve gotten better at. And I think it comes down to our balanced offense. Any time you have an All-Big Ten running back (fellow co-captain Justin Jackson) and a quarterback (sophomore Clayton Thorson) who is going to be a staple in your program, that takes pressure off me and puts pressure on opposing defenses. We just have a lot of weapons.”
Carr’s success has been both a blessing and a curse. A Big Ten Distinguished Scholar and winner of the Irving Kabiller Memorial Award for Excellence in Character, Commitment, and Community, Carr has had to put his musical ambitions on hiatus while he focuses on football and earning a Masters degree at the Kellogg School of Management.
“I’m so focused on the season right now that I haven’t really even thought about the awards,” Carr said. “But it’s quite an honor and I feel incredibly lucky to be placed on those lists.”
Carr is starting to draw attention from NFL scouts. After entering the season on no one’s NFL prospect list, he’s now rated the No. 1 slot receiver in college football by Pro Football Focus and the No. 2 receiver overall. Scouts are taking a closer look at the 6-foot-1, 200-pound receiver from the little town of Benicia, and sports agents are starting to call.
“It’s a cool thing, but it’s one of those distractions I have to be careful about,” Carr said. “Being this close to Chicago, there’s definitely a media presence. A lot more people seem to care about me than when I was a walk-on. I think I’ve done a really good job of not letting that be a distraction. I try to stay off of Facebook and not spend time reading or watching stuff about me. I just focus on our team’s goals.”
Carr’s goal now is leading the Wildcats to a bowl game. Northwestern (5-5) needs one win in its last two games to become bowl eligible. The Wildcats play at Minnesota (7-3) on Saturday.
“We’re hungry,” Carr said. “We’ve increased our focus since losing to Wisconsin and we’re rolling on all cylinders. I’m still focused on being a better player and I’m just grateful for the opportunity.”
Carr graduated from Benicia High in 2012 after setting Panthers football season records in rushing yards (1,481), combined rushing/receiving yards (2,325) and total points (196) his senior season.
He did a lot of watching his first three years at Northwestern in Evanston, Ill. Carr redshirted his freshman year (2012) and didn’t get into a game until the 2014 season, catching seven passes for 100 yards with no touchdowns. He became a starter last season and was second on the Wildcats in receiving yards (302) and touchdown catches (2).
Now Carr is a budding superstar at Northwestern and drawing the attention of fans, media and the NFL. He’s doing his best to take it all in stride.
“I feel incredibly grateful to the support system around me,” Carr said. “I feel totally blessed.”