By Gil Brandt, NFL.com Senior Analyst
Special to Profootballhof.com
Sometimes, pro football scouts get an easy "heads-up" on the best players, even some still in high school. For me, that includes the first time I heard about Harry Carson.
Hornsby Howell was one of our summer trainers during Cowboys training camp in Thousand Oaks, Calif. His full-time job was as the head coach at North Carolina A&T. And he raved about a young man from Florence, S.C., that was the senior class president and played defensive line and fullback. Unfortunately for Howell, Carson ended up going to South Carolina Sate, but his scouting instincts were right on target.
Orangeburg, S.C., isn't the largest town on the scouting tour of the South, but a really good restaurant and close proximity to Columbia, S.C., allowed players at South Carolina State the chance to regularly exhibit their skills for the scouts. It's a smaller school with a great football tradition. Although neither finished there, Pro Football Hall of Famers Deacon Jones and Marion Motley both started their careers at S.C. State.
In college, Carson played in a 4-3 defense under head coach Willie Jeffries, always with his hand on the ground. His weight stayed just under 220 pounds in school. Against option teams, Carson played inside stopping the run. Against non-option teams, he moved outside to force the pass, sacking the quarterback 17 times his senior year. But he never played in space, an interesting fact since he'll be entering the Hall of Fame as a linebacker.
Carson never missed a game in college and co-captained the team along with future NFL great Donnie Schell. He found a friend for life in Jeffries, who went on to become the first African-American head coach in Division I when he was hired at Wichita State and served as Carson's best man in his 1986 wedding.
My football mentor Tom Landry always told me the hardest thing to do as a coach was to take a player from the defensive line -- where the hand is always on the ground to start a play -- and stand them up into a linebacker's spot. That's exactly what Carson did when he was drafted by the Giants in the fourth round of the 1976 draft, the 105th overall player taken that year.
His position coach at the Giants, Marty Schottenheimer, stood him up and re-taught him the game from a new perspective. Carson, who always had a great instinct for the game and incredible field recognition, learned very quickly. He became a starter at middle linebacker midway through his first year and was named to the All-Rookie team.
In addition to being the Giants' team captain for 10 of his 13 season, Carson went on to play in nine Pro Bowls and was named to the first or second All-Pro team seven times. He was the foundation of one of the best linebacker corps in NFL history, playing alongside Lawrence Taylor and Carl Banks during the Giants' Super Bowl XXI championship 1986 season.
On July 18, George Martin, Phil Simms and many others threw Carson a small reception in his honor at Gallagher's Steakhouse in downtown Manhattan. Apparently, Carson was completely taken aback that so many of his former teammates and coaches, including Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick and Schottenheimer, took the time to be there. Current Giants president John Mara and former public relations director Ed Croke also attended. It's a testament to the greatness of a player that once made 25 tackles in a Monday Night Football game.
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