A former walk-on, an international ambassador, a famous singer, a giver and, statistically, the Big Ten’s best wide receiver. Not exactly the descriptors one would think could be used to describe one person.
But in the case of Austin Carr, it’s absolutely true.
Ask him what he wants to do after football, and you won’t be surprised with his response. It’s what Carr is doing while playing football that separates him from every other leading wide receiver in the Big Ten.
“I’m going to pursue football to the extent that it is feasible,” Carr said. “If that includes time in the NFL I would love that, it’s a dream of mine.”
That dream seemed rather unlikely when Carr came to Evanston four years ago as a preferred walk-on from Benicia, California. He was a terrific athlete, leaving Benicia High School as its all-time rushing and scoring leader, but Carr redshirted his first year at Northwestern and did not see the field the following season as he made the adjustment from running back to wide receiver.
“It was a two-year process when I was kind of just sitting in the barn and improving, and a lot of that is hard work but a lot of that is just blessings, just protection from God and not getting huge injuries,” Carr said.
Injuries, most notably to leading receiver Christian Jones, opened the door for Carr in 2014. He appeared in all 12 games, picking up seven receptions for 100 yards. The big breakthrough for Carr, however, came after last season’s 16-6 victory over Stanford.
Pat Fitzgerald summoned Carr, linebacker Josh Roberts, and kicker Jack Mitchell in front of the team in the locker room and announced, “On behalf of the university we’d like to congratulate these three on getting awarded a full athletic scholarship.”
“It was one of those mountaintop experiences, because I came here as a walk-on telling my parents, ‘hopefully you’re not going to have to pay for this tuition the whole time I’m here,’” Carr said. “That was kind of the floodgates opening, finally my parents don’t have to worry about that.”
Having earned a scholarship last year and captain honors this year, Northwestern’s leading returning receiver added just two more accolades to his impressive resume.
In 2013, Carr rose to Student-Athlete Talent Show stardom as a freshman with his vocal performance and his prowess on the piano. His latest musical endeavors, however, are not a solo performance. Carr and offensive lineman Ian Park sang the national anthem at NU softball’s senior day last season, and when the beautiful Hutcheson Field held its grand opening, the two teammates were an easy choice to perform.
“Austin is a sophisticated man,” Park said of his friend and teammate of four years. “He’s a talented guy and has really grown as a person the last few years. It’s been fun to get out there with him on the field and off the field as well. I’ll definitely remember this forever.”
It’s not easy to balance football and fine arts with a rigorous academic schedule. As an undergrad, Carr majored in philosophy and minored in the Business Institutions Program. Perhaps more impressive than his accomplishments on the field is what Carr has done in the classroom. The wide receiver earned Academic All-Big Ten honors and was named a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar. His academic success helped him be chosen as one of five 2015 student-athlete winners of the Irving Kabiller Memorial Award for Excellence in Character, Commitment, and Community.
With the $5,000-dollar grant that comes with the award, he was afforded the opportunity to attend a couple of conferences in New York City and learn about both the business side and the emotional impact of non-profits.
For Carr, the trip was an eye-opening experience, and one that he sees possibly playing a big role in his future:
"That is something right up my alley," Carr said. "I'm interested in sales and nonprofits and the session was basically about my strength. They spoke on the continuing evolution of sales, especially in the nonprofit sector. It was a session that really brought together my interests and skills."
It was just another interest to pursue and fit into an already time-crunched schedule.
“With school and being a wide receiver, it’s all about time management and being disciplined,” Carr said when we spoke to him over the summer. “I would be lying to you if I said I’m perfect at that, and I’ve got everything under control; I’ve got a midterm next week that I’ve yet to start studying for. Don’t tell my professor that.”
In what little extra free time he has, Carr gives back to the Northwestern community, just as he learned to do in the Big Apple. He worked as a tour guide for three years before taking a position as a Northwestern admissions counselor. His participation in Athletes in Action, an interdenominational Christian ministry for NU athletes, led him to travel to East Asia in the spring of 2014.
Offensive coordinator Mick McCall spoke highly of Carr’s growth and development both on and off the field in his time in Evanston.
“He’s always been a strong-willed person and he came in as a walk-on—that story tells itself—but he continues to get better and better,” McCall said. “He’s a great inside receiver, working really hard, and he’s doing a really really good job with leading. He’s very mature for his age.”
Head coach Pat Fitzgerald sings similar praise for his number one receiver.
“This is a guy who will be running companies or could be the president," he said. "He is that type of person. Somebody asked me about him and I said, 'I'm just honored to be his coach.”
So what’s on Carr’s agenda for the rest of his final season?
“In general, obviously I want to be the best wide receiver I can be, be the best at my position as possible,” he said. “And second would be loving my teammates and helping them get to that goal as well.”
Consider that just another item on the to-do list with a check beside it. With a conference-leading 392 receiving yards on a conference-leading 26 catches through four games, Carr is not just the Big Ten’s most interesting receiver, but also its best.
What the future holds remains more of a question for Carr, as he is currently enrolled in the Kellogg School of Management.
“After Kellogg and after Big Ten football, if the NFL isn’t an option, which I do hope it is, I can see myself going to seminary and maybe getting a masters in divinity. I can see myself starting my own company as well.”
But there’s no doubt that Fitzgerald is going to make the most of Carr’s final season at Northwestern.
“I’ve got the leading receiver in the Big Ten,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ve got confidence. That’s a great quote right there.”