Derek Carr preaches optimism, hard work in City Hall stop


The best quarterback in Fresno State history turned into a political philosopher on Saturday.


Derek Carr – once a Bulldog, now leader of the resurgent Oakland Raiders – went to Fresno City Hall to address local teens taking part in the seventh annual Youth Leadership Conference.

Speaking mid-morning in the Council Chamber, Carr recalled the challenges on his journey to maturity and pondered what it takes to lead men and women in tough times.

Of course, just about everyone among the standing-room-only audience was a boy or girl – teenagers no older than 18, full-time students at one of Fresno Unified School District’s 10 high schools. That’s why Carr focused his thoughts on preparation.

“Be around people who want to build confidence in you,” Carr said.

And here’s another tip, he said: “Hard work.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Carr added before anyone could groan. He knew adults incessantly throw the “hard work” admonition into the faces of young people.

Nonetheless, Carr said, don’t pretend.

“Be a real hard worker.”

There were plenty of good reasons for holding the conference at City Hall.

The city’s Parks Department wasn’t the event’s only sponsor, but you might say it was the straw that stirred the drink. Other key players were GAP, Fresno Unified, Fresno Barrios Unidos and Fresno United Neighborhoods.

Several top city officials were on hand: Parks Director Manuel Mollinedo, District 1 Council Member Esmeralda Soria, District 5 Chief of Staff (and Fresno Unified board President) Luis Chavez and Communications Director Mark Standriff.

Standriff and I stood off to one side before things got rolling. He is a native of Ohio and, perhaps inevitably, a longtime Cleveland Browns fan.

Standriff and Carr had talked briefly earlier in the morning.

“I said, ‘On behalf of the people of Ohio, I want to apologize for the Browns not drafting you,’” Standriff said with a smile. “Derek said, ‘Well, you had your chance.’”

Ah, that 2014 National Football League draft. The woeful Browns had two first-round picks. With No. 8, they grabbed cornerback Justin Gilbert out of Oklahoma State. No doubt a nice guy, and he does have all of three career starts so far. And with No. 22, Cleveland nabbed Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Permit me to bypass Manziel’s recent behavior, on and off the field.

The Raiders got Carr with the fourth pick of the second round – No. 36 overall, the fourth quarterback to be drafted.

Today’s sports world – especially in the rarified world of college and professional football – is obsessed with numbers and awards. Local journalist Ken McCoy in his introduction on Saturday delivered the Carr’s long resume with depth and flair.

Let’s cut to the chase. Carr delivered big time at Fresno State. He kept his poise as a rookie starter with the Raiders, no small feat when your team opens the season with 10 straight losses. He was a big reason the Raiders last fall went 7-9, four wins better than 2014.

Carr in two seasons has thrown 53 touchdowns against only 25 interceptions. To the casual football fan, this better than 2-to-1 ratio might seem inconsequential. Make no mistake, it helps explain why the Council Chamber’s balcony was full of adult Raider fans, their backs turned toward council dais as they snapped selfies with Carr in the distant background.

Carr huddles with Fresno Unified students for photos before his speech at City Hall. (Photo by George Hostetter)
Carr huddles with Fresno Unified students for photos before his speech at City Hall. (Photo by George Hostetter)

Mollinedo’s staff knew Carr’s star power would touch the budding leaders, as well. In three separate groups, dozens of boys and girls were given the signal to gather around Carr at the public podium. Smiles and photos followed.

When everyone was seated again, Carr dived into the business at hand. Well, he did so once the cheering died down.

“I was trying to think of ways to bring energy,” Carr said. “I don’t think I have to.”

Carr turns 25 next month.

“I was in your shoes not too long ago,” he said.

What’s in the shoes of high-schoolers?

Opportunity, of course. But, Carr said, those opportunities come as a mixed lot. Discretely using his own youth as an example, Carr said it’s all too easy for young people to head down self-destructive paths.

Carr said this can happen to someone from the strongest of families, as he described his own family. Temptation, he implied, merits its reputation for evil.

“People need someone they can follow,” Carr said.

Actually, there were two beacons for Carr – older brothers David (a former Fresno State and NFL quarterback himself) and Darren.

The Carrs out of Bakersfield were an athletic family. Competition and the strong emotions that come with ordered strife came naturally to the three brothers. Carr, of course, was always the “little” brother (not so little these days – 6-foot-3, 215 pounds).

The one-on-one-on-one battles evolved with the passage of time. Finally, Carr said, the day arrived when David and Darren recognized a new reality – Derek had the body and temperament to compete as an equal. No more patronizing the little one.

Carr said the turning point was a one-on-one basketball game. I can’t remember which brother was the opponent – perhaps it was Darren (6-foot-6, 300 pounds, all muscle). Regardless of whether it was Darren or David, it no doubt was a brawl.

And at one point in the mayhem, when it looked like Carr’s spirit might break under the stress, his brother looked him straight in the eye and whispered: “Don’t quit.”

Those two words, more than anything else, capture the theme of Carr’s remarks. He continued for another 25 minutes or so. Sometimes he offered advice based on personal experience. Sometimes he simply underscored the virtues of good citizens in the land of self-government.

“It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about others.”

“I’m going to outwork everybody.”

“Show your boss that you’re here to make the place better.” (You can add teachers, principals and parents to that mix, he added.)

“Start doing the right things now so you’ll be ready when success happens.”

“You know how many books I read before I got to college? Zero. That was me being selfish.”

Things ended with three questions from the audience. That gave Carr a chance to say 1.) he loves playing in Oakland, but if the Raiders move to another city “I will make the most of it”; 2.) the best decision he ever made was committing his life to Christ – “I’ve been joyful ever since”; 3.) he hopes he will always play for the Raiders, but “that decision is not entirely up to me.”

It was time to go. Denver’s 24-10 win over Carolina in Super Bowl 50 wasn’t even two weeks old. It’ll be months before Carr reports to Training Camp 2016.

But the Broncos happen to be in the same division as Oakland. The gap between the two teams appears wide. Then there are all the other teams full of players who understand the value of hard work.

Carr knows the clock never stops ticking.

“Go out there and get what you want,” Carr said. “I love you all. Take care.”

Cheers and applause. With several long strides, Carr made his way to the door leading to the Council Members’ offices. Then he was gone.

Some of the boys and girls sitting in the audience may one day walk through that same doorway as Fresno lawmakers.

Derek Carr gave ‘em the game plan. Now comes the execution.

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