Chris Carson has seen his fair share of frustration.
A star at Parkview High School in Lilburn, GA, Carson’s life looked set on a certain trajectory. After a junior season where he racked up 1,146 yards and 17 touchdowns, Chris had a slew of SEC and ACC offers.
He was even better his senior season. In eight games he had already reached 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns and increased his average yards per carry from 5.2 to 6.3.
Then a torn ACL and subsequent drop off in his grades threatened to end the gridiron fairy tale. Carson eventually chose to go the Juco route, which led him to Butler Community College in El Dorado, KS.
After two productive years and a stark uptick on the academic side of things, it seemed Chris was back on track. After committing to the University of Georgia, Carson looked at their loaded backfield headlined by emerging star Nick Chubb and decided to entertain other offers.
Carson was vocal about his desire to play at the next level and was well aware of what that could mean for his family, who had lost their home to a fire while Carson was home from Kansas on a break.
Enter Mike Gundy and a special trophy with the name "Barry Sanders" engraved on its anterior.
"I didn't think it was going to be that heavy."
Those were Chris’ words when asked about the bronze statue that Mike Gundy flew out to Georgia to try and seal the deal per an article in The Oklahoman. Gundy's pitch was simple. You want to play in the NFL. We can give you a better shot.
The buzz over his decision was palpable among OSU fans. And the 6-foot-2, 202-pound physical specimen looked the part. Think back to those pictures from training camp or Mike Gundy fawning over his "12 pack". Teammate Kevin Peterson even likened Carson to Adrian Peterson.
Chris was voted the 2015 preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. That prediction would prove to be off the mark. The award unfortunately went to Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook.
- 517 yards
- 3.95 yards per carry
- 4 touchdowns
Those aren’t exactly All-Big 12 numbers.
After an 89-yard performance in his Division I opener against Central Michigan, Carson managed just 42 yards and a touchdown in a blowout win over Central Arkansas.
Against UTSA, Carson racked up 104 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 6.12 yards per carry.
But against Texas, in his first Big 12 game, Carson only managed 39 yards before suffering another setback.
After a 13-yard first down run, Carson came up limping and made his way to the sideline. He would miss the remainder of the comeback thriller in Austin as well as the equally exciting Kansas State game the week after.
Carson returned against West Virginia but only managed 21 yards on 14 carries. In fact, Carson failed to break the 50 yard mark or score a touchdown for four straight games after his injury.
Against Iowa State, Carson showed flashes of the type of athleticism that had excited OSU’s coaching staff. He finished with 70 yards and a touchdown.
Those numbers may not jump off the page at you, but Carson’s performance was key in OSU’s come-from-behind win. He earned several clutch first downs that kept drives alive at crucial points late in the game.
As the Cowboy offense struggled to run the ball, Mike Gundy mixed up the rotation between Carson, Rennie Childs and walk-on Raymond Taylor. Carson again failed to reach the 50-yard mark or score another touchdown after he left Ames, IA.
Were his struggles all due to injury? I doubt it. Do you blame the offensive line that has been a work in progress going on three years? There's plenty to go around. Did Carson just not live up to the hype? It's probably a combination of all three.
Running backs coach Marcus Arroyo spoke with Robert Allen of GoPokes about the upcoming season and Carson in particular. He likened a junior college player coming into his first year without summer training to the same challenges a true freshman would face coming out of high school.
Now, as the 2016 season approaches, Chris Carson will have to prove himself worthy of the number one spot.
The offensive line should be better. Carson should be healthy and seems to have impressed in the spring.
Mason is feeling good and moving around well. I like where Chris Carson is at. I think Chris is really competing.— Mike Gundy (@CoachGundy) March 11, 2016
But Mike Gundy has brought in another "Barry Sanders". This one weighs more than 25 pounds and isn’t made of bronze.
No one knows what Barry J. Sanders will look like behind an offensive line that is still finding its way.
And Carson still has all the attributes to be successful at this level, both physically and in terms of skill set. He’s also put on 13 pounds from last year per OSU’s site.
Will he win the starting job in fall camp? He’ll have a shot at it. Either way, he will still have plenty of chances to make plays this fall.
Setbacks can bring frustration and test resolve but Chris Carson has made a habit out of bouncing back from adversity. Will he be able to make his biggest comeback yet? We all get a front row seat to watch him try.