Nearly two decades after he left Michigan and a month shy of his 41st birthday, Will Carr can call himself a University of Michigan graduate.
Carr, who played for the Wolverines from 1993-96, is a former All-American nose tackle and currently a student assistant at Michigan, helping coach defensive linemen. He officially graduates Sunday with a degree in sports management, although he plans to walk the graduation stage in May with four of the defensive linemen he has helped coach.
“Eighteen wonderful years later, right?” Carr said, laughing. “Eighteen mature years later.
“I took my last final (Thursday), and I’m so excited. I actually studied for this (anatomy exam) for three weeks, straight grinding. You have no idea how much work that was, but the reward is so far greater than the work. I just encourage everyone to understand the end game.”
Although he comes from a family of educators, including his mother, a longtime high school teacher in Dallas, Carr had different priorities when he was playing football at Michigan.
“Honestly, when I was growing up, there were things I said I wanted to do — be an All-American, which I did twice in high school and college; own a business, did that; play in the NFL, did that; coach football, doing that. One thing I never said I wanted to do was get a degree. I was more focused on playing at the next level than education.”
At the time he left UM after the ‘96 season, Carr was 12 credits shy of his degree, but in the many years since, the program was reorganized and he needed more hours to fulfill the requirements.
Priorities change as years pass. Carr has a 10-year-old son, William, and while he wanted a college degree to further his opportunities in coaching, he mostly believed in setting an example.
“I wanted my son to have the opportunity of saying my dad graduated from college, that’s what I want to do,” Carr said. “I want to inspire him to do the same.”
Front of the class
Greg Mattison, Michigan’s defensive line coach who will coordinate the defense for the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day, recruited Carr to Michigan. Former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke was an assistant when Carr played. Hoke and Mattison brought Carr on the staff as a student coach and he remained on the staff under coach Jim Harbaugh, who he said he idolized as a coach.
Carr, who realized four years ago after running the successful apparel company Will-O in Dallas that he wanted to be a college football coach, is an unpaid student coach at Michigan. He cut his teeth at Arizona Western, a junior college, and made $400 every two weeks. He had success and coached defensive end Randy Gregory, who went on to Nebraska and now the Dallas Cowboys.
He squirreled away enough money to stay afloat and the NCAA allows scholarships for continuing education, so that has helped him realize this goal.
“I wasn’t dumb. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do the work, I just wasn’t focused on it,” Carr said of his college years at Michigan. “Coach Hoke and coach Mattison would say, ‘Where was this student when you were here?’ I study now. I’ve never been a dumb person, it’s just about prioritizing now. Now, I study, I read, I enjoy going to class, I enjoy being around the students, I enjoy being around the professors.”
His return to school has made for some unique moments, considering some of his classmates are players he coaches. Carr used the opportunity to challenge the players to beat his grades and grade point average. But they challenged him, too.
“To be right there with them in class, you can’t go in and slack, because they’ll call you out,” he said.
He was a regular at study table and found tutors to help him study most recently for the difficult medical terminology that goes along with an anatomy class. Always a back-row student in the ‘90s, Carr revamped his approach during his second go-around.
“Now I’m in the front, in the driver’s seat,” he said, laughing.
Future Dr. Carr?
The return to college all these years later has given Carr a different perspective on how the younger generation looks at things. He is amazed how different the resources are for students today, and after mimicking the old Internet dial-up sound, spoke of Google searches and the immediate access of information. The entire experience has offered him new ways to approach working with the student-athletes he coaches.
“It’s cool to see the different takes,” Carr said. “A lot of the classes are about social issues, and it’s interesting to see how they think about those issues.”
Many of the defensive linemen have credited Carr with helping their improvement. He plans to walk during the May graduation with linemen Willie Henry, Matt Godin, Ryan Glasgow and Chris Wormley. He delayed the formality of graduation so he could focus on bowl preparations and to make sure his family can make the trip to Ann Arbor.
“I want my son to be there,” he said.
“I want my son to be there,” he said.
Carr isn’t ruling out furthering his education and obtaining a master’s degree, because that helps land head coaching jobs, he said, and that’s his ultimate goal.
“I like the name, ‘Dr. Carr,’” he said, laughing. “They should probably give a Ph.D in football. I’d be gung-ho for that.”
But for now, he will have to enjoy being, Will Carr: College Graduate.
“College graduate,” Carr said. “Say that again.”
He heard the words a second time.
“Isn’t that awesome?” the 40-year-old graduate said, laughing.