MONTGOMERY — Opportunities come in unique ways and unexpected forms.
For former Alabama State University football player Nigel Carr, his path to the most watched sporting event of the year certainly fits the category.
The linebacker will be on the floor of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans Sunday night as his Baltimore Ravens face the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 47.
Carr played his final two college seasons at Alabama State in 2010 and 2011 after transferring to the Hornets' program from Florida State.
Over the next two years, Carr played in 16 games for ASU and had 73 tackles, (43 solo) with 9.5 tackles for loss, including 3.0 sacks.
He also had an interception, four quarterback hurries and a forced fumble. Carr was signed by the Ravens as a free agent this past spring, and led the team in tackles in the preseason with 17. He was released by the team at the end of August.
However, the triceps injury to star linebacker Ray Lewis opened the door for Carr's return to the Ravens on the practice squad in mid-October and he hasn't looked back.
(As a practice squad player, Carr goes through all of the requirements of players on the active roster, but is not eligible to play on gameday unless he is activated to the active list.)
"The reason I was called back was because of Ray," Carr said. "When Ray got back on the field, for me to still be here was a blessing to be with him for this last ride of his career and has been a great experience and a true education."
As a Raven, Carr has watched and learned from some of pro football's best players.
"The main thing I took away from my first time here was to be professional," Carr said from New Orleans. "Being around guys like Ray and (free safety) Ed Reed, I learned a lot from watching those guys. I came into camp a little heavy, so the lessons I learned about conditioning I will take with me the rest of my career. I learned how to be professional at all times, not only on the field but off the field. My main thing now is to make a new image for myself."
During his time away from the Ravens early in the regular season, Carr lived in Orlando, Fla. where he continued to train and prepare for his next opportunity while waiting for the phone to ring.
"With me having a good preseason, I knew I would be on a team this year, but I didn't know it would be the Ravens again," Carr said.
"My big thing was to stay ready and that's what I did a good job. I lost some weight and got stronger. When I got that phone call (to re-sign with the franchise), I was on the plane back to Baltimore the same day and I was ready to go."
Carr has had a front-row seat to be a part of the final season of Lewis' historic career, and he's relished the opportunity.
"It's been incredible being around him daily," Carr said. "You realize not only how great of a player he is, but how much a student of the game he is. And how he knows the opponent's offense in and out before they play. He's older now, so just to see him and his conditioning, discipline and knowledge of the game is amazing. In our defensive team and linebacker meetings, it's been a blessing for me to be around him. It's an experience I will always remember."
Super Bowl Week is a frenzy of activities in the host city, but especially for the participating teams. While Carr and his teammates are the center of the media coverage, not to mention the lure of the city in the background, he is clearly focused on the task at hand. He is also well aware of how special this opportunity is in his first season on an NFL roster.
"The amount of people here and seeing fans from all over has been a great experience," Carr said. "Our hotel is not far from Bourbon Street, so my big thing has been staying focused. There's a lot of temptation here, but at the same time you have to realize it's a business trip. I'm taking it all in. There's players who played 10-12 years and Hall of Famers who didn't get this opportunity. To be here my first year, it's a game that I will always want to get back to. That's going to drive me my whole career. Super Bowl Week is amazing, and there's nothing to describe what I'm feeling right now."
Now that championship weekend is here, Carr has images of what Super Bowl Sunday will bring. "Our coaches have told us it's going to be a long game and to hold our emotions in check until kickoff," said Carr of the contest, which kicks off at 5:30 p.m. CT on CBS.
"I know the entire experience will be incredible, with all the pageantry of the game and Alicia Keys (singing the National Anthem) and Beyonce (performing at halftime). Growing up as a kid, you watch the Super Bowl every year, and see all the great commercials. For me to be a part of that, it's going to be very emotional for me in remembering all I had to go through to get here. I'm looking forward to it."
Courtesy: Duane Lewis (Alabama State University)