Kevin Carter is a 14 year NFL veteran who played defensive end with the St. Louis Rams, Tennessee Titans, Miami Dolphins and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. During his career Kevin was a two-time Pro Bowl selection and a Super Bowl champion with the Rams. Kevin is now a college football analyst for ESPN and together with his wife Shima they have raised over $2 Million through the Kevin Carter Foundation which has helped benefit the lives of children suffering with life threatening illnesses. I had the unique privilege to speak with Kevin discussing his career in the NFL and his amazing efforts and passion to help others.
Jay: You played defensive end for 14 seasons in the NFL including multiple Pro Bowl appearances and a Super Bowl title with the St. Louis Rams. What’s it like to have such a long run in the NFL?
Kevin: I am incredibly blessed to have played in the NFL for 14 seasons and to have made a career out of my passion. Growing up, I was never considered the most athletic, but I worked hard at everything I did. The window of opportunity in professional sports is extremely small and while I was playing, I was completely focused on getting better at my game in every way. I stayed on top of exactly what I ate, exactly what I did and I was always focused on ways I could improve. It’s the little details that count. I had a lot of respect for my teammates and I always made it a habit to ask some of the older guys to give me advice on how to perfect my game. They’d often tell me to picture an express train which leaves every year, traveling at the speed of light. The game of football is a train moving at lightning speed. In reality, you’ll never be able to completely catch it. My goal was to stay close enough so it wouldn’t pass me by. I strived to be a better player every time I stepped on to the field.
In the NFL, your future is never guaranteed. There are guys who are starters one year, and by the next year, they are out of a job. You’re always one injury, trade or cut away from losing your position. There’s a new crop of young players ready to come in and take your job every year. If you don’t put in your best effort every single day, the opportunity will pass you by.
Jay: Was that constantly on your mind and did that force you to work extra hard to stay on the team?
Kevin: Absolutely, it was always on my mind, and quite frankly, it’s what drove me to work harder year after year. I strived to be one of those guys who played a long time and had a long tenure. I wanted to be one of the older guys in the locker room, the “double digit dinosaur” (playing 10 years or more.) When I began my career in the NFL, I learned so many things from the veterans. I wanted to be able to give that same advice to the younger players coming into the league. In order to get to that point and continue to compete, I had to work extremely hard each year. Much of the credit goes to some of the great coaches I had the privilege to play for.
Jay: Can you expand on that a little bit? As fans, we hear a lot about great coaches but we don’t get to see firsthand what impact coaches have on players. How do great coaches help players perform?
Kevin: Aside from talent, a successful team requires a collective group of individuals that are willing to put aside their ego, work together and do what it takes in order to win. It takes a special leader to bring that out in a team. A great coach knows how to get you to work harder than you even thought possible. A great coach leads you to achieve much more than you ever expected. It’s a tough process and in order to succeed, you need to learn to love the grind. Everyone loves the dream, but many people don’t want the hard work it takes to get there. A great coach understands the players and learns how to motivate them to perform at the best of their abilities.
When I played for Dick Vermeil at the Rams, he expected more out of me than what I was physically capable of. It often felt like nothing was ever good enough. But in reality, it wasn’t that he thought I was slacking off, it was about his seemingly unreal expectation of his players. His motivation was fueled by love and the dream he had for us as individuals that had nothing to do with the game of football.
When he first took the job with the Rams, he called us into the locker room and said, “In three years we’ll be champs. Not everyone here will be there, but we’ll find out who is cut out for it. At the end of the process, we’ll have a piece of greatness that no one can take away from us.”
He was a true leader, yet humble and gracious. He worked harder than anyone, and he expected everyone around him to work just as hard. He inspired greatness. I had to make sure I did my absolute best and nothing short of it.
Jay: It seems that it certainly suited you well, being that you got to play 14 years in the league and never missed a single game! What was the transition like once you hung it up?
Kevin: I was extremely blessed, and because I played so long, it was very strange waking up the morning after I retired.
Jay: Was that just because of the extreme adjustment you had to make in your schedule?
Kevin: You dedicate your entire life to this sport, and just like that, it’s gone. The adjustment in the schedule is just one part of it. The fact that you’re no longer doing what you love in front of thousands of fans is another part of it.
The fact that many of the people who were your “friends,” all of a sudden no longer care about you, is yet another part of it. When you’re a player in the NFL, everyone wants to be around you, but when the lights go out and the doors to the stadium close, you find yourself looking around for your true friends. You begin to ask yourself, “Who am I?” To be honest, as an athlete, there is nothing like playing in the NFL. But as a human, you need to find fulfillment in every season of life.
Jay: What have you done since retiring to find that fulfillment?
Kevin: It’s amazing how satisfying the simplest things in life can be when you take the time to enjoy every moment. I enjoy just going to the grocery or picking up the dry cleaning. Most of all, I love having the time to be a better dad to my son and a better husband to my wife.
In 2002, in the middle of my playing career, my wife and I started The Kevin Carter Foundation, which helps kids suffering with life threatening illnesses. My foundation was created to enrich the lives of children and focus on youth and character development as well as children in need. Shortly after I started the foundation, I began an event in Nashville (while I was playing for the Titans) called “Waiting for Wishes” Celebrity Waiter’s Dinner that benefits the Make-A-Wish foundation. A few years later, I brought on my co-host, Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts. Every year, fellow athletes and entertainers come together to raise money to grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions. Since its inception, we have raised $2 million!
To be able to touch so many lives and help them improve their quality of life surpasses anything I’ve ever accomplished during my NFL career. While I’m very proud of my career, I hardly talk about my accomplishments as a player. What I’m most proud of is the legacy I’ve been able to create through my foundation. I not only want to be remembered as a great athlete, but a great husband, dad and philanthropist.
Kevin Carter is an ESPNU college football analyst on The Experts and an in-studio analyst for college football. The 14 year NFL veteran brings his unique experience and perspective ESPNU programming. Carter and his wife Shima established the Kevin Carter Foundation in 2002, an organization created to enrich the lives of children, focusing on youth and character development. He hosts the “Waiting for Wishes” celebrity dinner and reception, where he and his teammates, along with celebrities, serve as waiters and waitresses for dinner attendees. Since 2001, the annual dinner has generated $2 million for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and was named Community Man of the Year for three straight years by his Titans’ teammates.