Forever a Bear

By: Patrick J. Merrill -

Four years can be as long or short as the experiences that define it. So too with the good and the bad, the ups and the downs, each defined by the lessons learned and insights gained.

Today marks the end of California defensive end Andre Carter's collegiate career with the Golden Bears. Four years of Cal football, four long years, four short seasons, numerous ups and downs, but most importantly, four years of being a Golden Bear.

As Carter steps onto the field for the 103rd Big Game inside Memorial Stadium, he will do so having achieved some amazing personal accomplishments. With his two sacks against Oregon last week, Carter assumed possession of Cal's single-season and career sack records. Carter's 13 sacks this season, three better than his 10 sacks in 1999, good for sixth place on the all-time list, ties him with Ron Rivera's 1983 performance. And for his collegiate career, Carter stands alone with 30 sacks, two better than Regan Upshaw's 28 (1993-95).

There are more records to note, of course, for Carter is that kind of player. He sits in the number seven slot for single-season tackles for loss, tallying 20 in his 1999 season. Today, Carter takes the field with 18, good for the number 11 slot on Cal's all-time list. Let's not forget Carter's 53 career tackles for loss either. It's good for third on the list, just one short of Jerrott Willard (1991-94).

And this is all before today's game, before the Big Game, before Carter's final game. One thing can be for sure, he's not going to leave anything left in the tanks. What you see out on the field today will be every ounce he has to give. This is his grand finale.

But this isn't the end of Andre Carter. The 6-5, 263-pound senior from San Jose has more football to play. Projected to be one of the first 10 players taken in next spring's NFL draft, Carter was rated one of college football's Top 10 defensive players in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated. Is he ready for it? You bet.

'It's on my mind all the time,' Carter told the Eugene Register-Guard before last week's game against Oregon. 'It's a dream to go to the next level. How could I not think about it? Getting paid the kind of money pro football players make for doing something you love to do. I can't wait.'

Of course he can't, he's already had a taste. Rubin Carter,Andre's father, enjoyed a long 12-year career with the Denver Broncos before becoming a defensive line coach with the Washington Redskins. But there was never pressure from dad to make football his life.

'I'm blessed my dad knows the business and how to deal with this,' Carter said of his father's guidance in preparing him for a career in the NFL. 'But he never forced me to play football. I was into basketball and track and didn't try football until my sophomore year in high school.'

By his senior year, Carter had offers to play football at virtually every school that interested him, finally choosing Cal over Northwestern, Miami and Arizona State. He signed as a No. 1 high school defensive line prospect.

That was the first of Carter's tough decisions regarding his future. Another came last year when he faced the option of leaving school early to enter the NFL draft, nearly a sure first-round selection by most people's guess. But Carter chose to stay, to graduate and to play one more season with his teammates.

'After the (1999) Big Game, my dad and I talked about the pros and cons of staying or leaving, and the opportunities I had in the NFL,' said Carter during the 1999 press conference announcing his decision to return to Cal for his senior season. 'I have some goals here at Cal that I haven't fulfilled and I want to stay and see them through. My heart was always that I wanted to stay here and have my senior year with my teammates. So it was a gradual process rather than a sudden decision.'

The NFL is a business. Teams trade players. College is a life experience.

'It's been tremendous being at this university and it's exciting to make it through in four years,' said Carter. 'A lot of guys never get this chance, or they give up and transfer. But I made it. I've played with a lot of great guys and enjoyed a type of closeness that from what I hear you don't have in the NFL. This could be something I never experience again.'

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