SANTA CLARA (AP) — Derek Carrier’s decisions to attend a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin and drop basketball for football paid off when he earned a spot on the San Francisco 49ers this season after spending most of the last two years on NFL practice squads.
Now he could get the biggest chance of his career.
With leading tight ends Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald nursing injuries, Carrier is expected to play a heavy dose of snaps when the 49ers (1-1) visit the Arizona Cardinals (2-0) on Sunday. Carrier caught his first three passes for 41 yards in San Francisco’s 28-20 loss to the Chicago Bears last week after Davis and McDonald went down.
“He plays fearless,” quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. “He goes out, he’s going to give you everything he has and he’s willing to go and make a play.”
Carrier’s career has come quite a long way.
He played football and basketball in his first two years at Beloit College, a liberal arts school in Wisconsin. He chose to focus on football his final two years, went undrafted and spent part of 2012 on the Philadelphia Eagles’ practice squad before playing two games with the 49ers late last season.
Carrier said he went with football over basketball because it was a better fit. By his junior year, he said he was a small forward playing at 225 pounds.
“I probably outweighed everyone on the court by 30 pounds,” said Carrier, who is 6-foot-4 and about 250 pounds now.
Carrier’s time on the hardwood wasn’t a total loss, though. He said his basketball experience helped hone his footwork and hand-eye coordination, which are valuable traits as a blocker and pass catcher in the NFL.
“I think the basketball aspect deals more with just general athleticism,” Carrier said. “I think a lot of the moves you have in basketball are similar, posting up, being able to move with your feet and your hands, it translates on the football field.”
Carrier turned down an offer to be a preferred walk-on at Big Ten powerhouse Wisconsin for Beloit because he didn’t want to wait two or three years to play — and he wasn’t thinking about an NFL career back then, anyway.