Growing up watching his father play professional football, Ran Carthon found a passion for the game and knew he wanted to follow in his dad’s profession but blaze his own path to glory. So when his family moved from Osceola, AR to Key West, FL and he began playing high school football, Carthon hoped to be recognized for his efforts on the field rather than his father’s famous last name.
He received that recognition from the Florida Gators and committed to wear orange and blue throughout his college career. After working hard to earn time on the field and being given a second chance to shine under head coach Ron Zook, Carthon led Florida in rushing in 2003 with 595 yards and six touchdowns (he also caught 21 balls for 185 yards and another score).
He played in 48 games with 11 starts over his career, running for over 1,300 yards on 270 carries and scoring 12 total touchdowns.
Now a professional scout with the Atlanta Falcons, “The Mayor” (a nickname he was given in college for knowing everyone in Gainesville, FL) is not only still involved in football but also constantly working on ways to give back to the community.
Carthon sat down with OGGOA last week for a 45-minute exclusive interview that touches on his life growing up, advice for recent Gators commits, time at Florida, playing in the NFL and the newest charitable venture he is involved in, the Florida Players Network.
ADAM SILVERSTEIN: What was it like playing high school football in Key West? Did you find it was hard to get recognized?
RAN CARTHON: “Living in Key West was awesome and amazing; we had a lot of community support. Kind of like most football stories you hear, it was a small town community that really rallies around their high school sports. In terms of being recognized, honestly it was something we never thought about. We played a lot of Miami schools – and those schools had talented players – so we knew if we wanted to get on scholarship that we had to dominate those guys in order to get our recognition.”
AS: Did you feel any added pressure either living your life as the son of a well-known NFL player (New York Giants and Super Bowl-winning fullback Maurice Carthon)?
RC: “For me it was always like I wanted to create my own identity. Earlier on I fought against everything you read about – ‘son of former Giants player’ – and I wanted to establish myself and let people know that I can play this game. That was the initial thing. As I got older, I realized that I was fighting a losing battle. My dad is who he is and my talents would be recognized because of him because of the gene pool. After a few years, I gave up on that fight.”
AS: Florida has Bryan Cox, Jr. committed for 2012 and just earned a verbal pledge from Kelvin Taylor. Do you have any advice for those guys on how to live and play in the “shadow” of their respective fathers?
RC: “I would just say be who you are. The player that you are has gotten you to this point, gotten you recognized by elite schools. I’ve been following Kelvin since his eighth grade year as a senior at Glades Day. I’m very familiar with him and that’s just more so because of how much of a fan I was of Fred [Taylor]. Fred and Terry Jackson were probably two of the main reasons why I selected to go to UF. I thought under [Steve] Spurrier they were allowed to show everything they could do as backs. I had offers from schools that were predominately running the ball, but I felt like I was more versatile than that. For those guys – Bryan Cox, Jr. and Kelvin Taylor – those guys need to embrace who their father is but at the same time continue to do what got them to where they are.”
Read the rest of our interview with Ran Carthon…after the break!
AS: You committed to play for the Gators and Spurrier in the end. What schools were in your final two and was that a ultimately a tough decision for you to make?
RC: “My two final choices ultimately were the University of Miami and Florida. I just thought throughout the recruiting process that [defensive line coach] Rod Broadway, he recruited me. I just thought that he made it real personable and he just made it an easier transition. Plus the Key West community is very big supporters of the University of Florida. I had that. Everyone there was showing me Gator films and was more than willing to let me watch or share with me. I just remember watching the 1997 season, watching that team’s highlight film. That was Fred’s monster year. He had a monster game against Florida State and in the bowl game went over 200 yards. That kind of solidified it for me.”
AS: So coming out of high school you join the Floirda football team and are immediately on a squad competing for SEC Championships. What was that experience like?
RC: “It was amazing, especially the guys who were in my recruiting class – Rex [Grossman] and Jabar [Gaffney] and Bobby McCray, Lito [Sheppard] and Taylor Jacobs. We were a very, very close class. That was another reason why I wanted to go to Florida. I wanted to win. We didn’t win very many district championships at my high school. We didn’t win any state championships. That’s what I’m all about. I’m all about winning, and I wanted to be a part of a winner. Going in our freshman year and getting to the SEC and then winning the SEC in my redshirt freshman year, it was like, ‘OK, we are here to dominate.’ My class expected to go to the SEC Championship every year. We damn near got there. We had the debacle in 2001 with 9/11 and then losing to Tennessee. We took our frustration out on Maryland in the bowl game. We had some great teams, man, and I’d put our 2001 team up against the 1996 team or the 2006 team or the 2008 team just in terms of having talented football players.”
AS: Obviously you had a great deal of success with the Gators but you were also on the team during the transition from Spurrier to Ron Zook. What was that like for the players?
RC: “Firstly, we were caught off guard considering that we had just had a big victory against Maryland in the Orange Bowl. The next day I remember my mom waking me up telling me, ‘Hey, Coach Spurrier’s leaving.’ I thought that was just her way of trying to wake me up. For that to happen, I wouldn’t call it a panic but we were wondering who was going to be our next coach. We were kind of glued to the websites and the TV and trying to figure it out as well. The transition was good for guys like myself who hadn’t really touched the field much under Spurrier. It was a chance for us to prove ourselves again to a new guy who was coming in with a new slate and didn’t know any of us. It was good from that standpoint.”
AS: What are your thoughts and feelings on Zook?
RC: “I liked Coach Zook. I thought he was a hell of a recruiter. That’s one thing that no matter where he goes – you could even see it at Illinois. He didn’t do as well as he would have liked, but he’s putting guys in the NFL in the first and second round. He has an uncanny ability and an eye for talent. That’s where he really excelled. I’m not going to say that he got a raw deal because we are the University of Flordia and there’s an expectation or us to win. But I don’t think he gets enough credit as he should. I’ll say that.”
AS: You led Florida in rushing in 2003 after waiting patiently and finally getting the chance to start. What was that experience like – to be “the man” carrying the rock?
RC: “I honestly found it peaceful. I’ve never run away from competition. I’m a very competitive guy. For me it was a chance for me to show the Gator Nation what I was capable of. I always had success in spring games, but I just had talented guys in front of me. Getting my shot as a senior and then having talented guys like DeShawn Wynn and Ciatrick Fason and Skyler Thornton – those young guys pushed me. I can honestly say I knew that Ciatrick and DeShawn were more talented than me, so I had to find other ways to compete and that was my knowledge of the offense. I had to know everything through and through. And then we had a freshman quarterback in Chris Leak, so I really had to be up on it to help him out when he needed it.”
AS: When you left the team there were some very young players on the squad who would go on to be the veterans that led Florida to the 2006 National Championship. Though I’m sure you couldn’t tell that these guys in particular would lead the Gators to a national title, was there anything in particular that caught your eye with that class and the players left on the team?
RC: “Oh yeah, definitely. That started with Chris’s class. I can still remember the very first time I met Chris when he came to UF in camp. I watched him throw and [got to see it again] being out on the field with him for the first time in the summer. He’s probably going to be mad that I’m telling people this but people don’t realize that he’s ambidextrous. He can throw with both hands. I used to always tell him, ‘Hey, if you roll out to the left and throw the ball with your left hand and complete it, you’re going to win the Heisman.’ I used to always tell him that, but he would never do it. Seeing DeShawn and seeing Ciatrick and all those young guys, man, it was a talented group. Channing Crowder, too. There was obviously something special on that field. I can honestly say this. I always felt they would win a national championship because I knew how terrific Chris was and how bad he wanted to win a national championship. He wanted that as a part of his legacy at the University of Florida.”
AS: You mentioned Crowder. A lot of people seem to believe he’s “off” a little bit, while those who know him personally tend to paint a different picture.
RC: “He’s not as crazy as people believe. He’s an awesome dude, probably one of the smartest football players I’ve ever played with. He knew what everybody was doing. Being that middle linebacker, he’s an old school classic kind of player. You have to have a level of craziness. Channing’s one of the best football players I’ve played with at UF. There was always a method to his madness.”
AS: After college you went undrafted and wound up signing with Indianapolis, spending nearly three years with the team. Being around that environment – future hall of famers, head coach Tony Dungy – and experiencing the success you did there, what was that like at a professional level? Now you did go undrafted but wound up signing with the Colts and spent three
RC: “For me it was a learning experience from the standpoint of coming from the University of Florida, playing in Spurrier’s offense, playing in Zook’s offense. You think you have a good concept and a good knowledge of offense. I remember my very first day looking at the script for practice for that mini camp, and I thought I was not cut out for it. It looked French. I had no idea what I was looking at. Having people that I look up to like Edgerrin James, who really took me under his wing and kind of put the offense in layman’s terms. Having Peyton [Manning] there. I remember my first start in a preseason game, I stopped Peyton on the way out of the tunnel and was like, ‘Hey man, slow it down. Slow it down.’ In order for you to be out there with Peyton, they had to trust you. Coach Dungy was probably the most high-character person I’ve ever been around in my life. He was a very big influence. He instilled in me a lot of my beliefs now in how I raise my family. He’s everything that people say he is. He is probably one of the best people you’ll ever meet in life.”
AS: Manning seems to get the vast majority of credit for the team’s success, but how important was Dungy in the entire equation, the team believing in his concepts of what it takes to win and be a quality person both on and off the field?
RC: “For us it was all about not wanting to let Coach Dungy down. He treated you like a man. He pushed on your shoulders. ‘I could sit up here and tell you to do this, that and the other, but you guys have to go out there and play and execute.’ You went out there each day – whether it was in practice or in a game – and you worked your behind off because you didn’t want to let him down. He would always find something positive we did and something we could improve on. He would always say the things we did wrong were obvious but we also did this well and can improve upon that. The guy that’s often overlooked in that whole grand scheme of things is Tom Moore, the offensive coordinator. If you look at his history, I could be wrong, but he has the only two offenses that have a 4,000-yard passer, three 1,000-yard receivers and a 1,500 yard back in the same season and he did it at Detroit and he did it at Indy. He’s a great offensive mind.”
AS: I’m sure you’re not in contact with Manning on a day-to-day basis; however, knowing him as a player and person, would you find it hard to believe that he would give it all up without exhausting every possible opportunity to get healthy and continue playing?
RC: “Yeah, that’s one thing about Peyton. Peyton is not going to give up. Peyton is a very driven and determined person. His whole career there were naysayers. There were people saying he wasn’t good enough to be the No. 1 overall quarterback. Then people said he wouldn’t lead a franchise to a Super Bowl. He accomplished that feat. It’s just a stepping stone for him, another way for him to accomplish a goal. I wish him the best. I pray for him. I definitely think he’s going to give it his all just to get back out on the field and prove people wrong. Not only get out on the field and prove people wrong but try to do it at a high level.”
AS: Did you ever give Manning grief about the whole Florida-Tennessee rivalry and his experiences in those games? Was there anything special you guys did when your teams went head-to-head while you were on the team?
RC: “Oh yeah. Every year. Every year. He could not shake that. Every year. I remember my second year, I asked him if he wanted to make a bet on the game. He said yeah and asked what I wanted to do. I said, ‘If Tennessee loses, then you have to wear a Florida shirt during your interviews.’ He’s like, ‘Hell no, I will never do that.’ We always found comedic ways to come up with a bet on the game. One year I remember it was a night game, probably in 2006 but I’m not sure. I remember walking down the hallway and it was past curfew. I knocked on his door, he opened it, and I just stood there in his doorway and sang the fight song. He closed the door in my face and I stood there until I was done signing the fight song.”
AS: Your career in Indianapolis ended in the Super Bowl season. What was that like, especially to have the game in Miami, FL and so close to where you grew up?
RC: “I actually did not get a Super Bowl ring. I was on the roster the first three weeks of the season and then I was released. The greatest part about it, as weird as this may be, it just so happened to be in Miami that year. I was living in Miami, too, and you would’ve thought that I was a part of the team because I was with those guys every night they were free. We went to dinner. I was at the hotel. The team really embraced me. Guys called me to go to the hotel, hang out and go out. I felt a part of it but then again it’s one thing to feel a part of it and actually be a part of it. I can remember one of the first guys I talked to when I got released was Peyton. He’s always been a supporter of me. I’ve always been appreciative of that. I felt just as much a part of the team as anybody else who was out there.”
AS: How did you transition into being a pro scout with the Atlanta Falcons? Did you ever consider going into coaching like your father?
RC: “Scouting is something I’ve always been interested in. I used to sit home and record every draft from 1995 to 2003. I would sit by the TV and have my legal pad and kind of do my own little mocks with the magazines and all that. When I was in school, whatever team my dad was with and whatever coach came down, I would always get with them to watch film when they watched our guys for Pro Day. I would be on the field timing 40s myself, timing drills and doing all those things. It was something I always wanted to do. I gave coaching a try. Guys used to tease me saying I’d be a good coach when all is said and done. I just didn’t have the patience to sit and coach. My hat goes off to coaches who have to constantly repeat themselves. Scouting was something that was natural for me. I went back to school in 2008 to get my degree and from there I just sent letters to every single team. The big break came for me when at Florida’s Pro Day, Urban [Meyer] allowed me to come back. I wasn’t there working out, but I came and I met some of the scouts and got some cards and kind of kept in touch with guys throughout that process. I was able to get an interview with the Falcons and was able to land the job.”
AS: Former Florida linebacker Mike Peterson has also been with Atlanta throughout your tenure there. Are you two close at all or at least talk about the Gators?
RC: “I never got the opportunity to play with him at Florida, but Mike always came back and worked out with us, so he’s a guy I’ve known for years and years. We see each other in a different setting now so the relationship is different. We both have an understanding that we have to keep it professional here. We don’t hang out off the field or anything like that but there is a level of respect. We do recognize that we are brothers.”
AS: Considering part of your job with Atlanta is evaluating players and you have so much experience as a running back, what are your thoughts on Chris Rainey and the opportunity he will have in the NFL?
RC: “I think it’s a great opportunity. Chris is just going to have to go out and show what he can do and let the film speak for itself. He’s a dynamic player. The guys always give me crap and say that I’m biased towards the Florida players, but I love my guys. He was a joy to watch at Florida. He’s one of those guys that, every time he touched the ball, you’re holding your breath because you know a big play could be coming. I wish Chris nothing but the best. I had a chance to talk with him briefly at the Senior Bowl. I think he’ll be fine. He just hast o get the right fit that allows him to play his game, learn the offense and get better.”
AS: Are you and the team evaluating him as a back or receiver and returner?
RC “I was more so there just looking at everything in general. I think he could possibly play both. Guys like Dexter McCluster, Chris Johnson have proven that smaller backs can play and carry the ball in this league. Knowing how competitive Rainey is, I don’t think any challenge is too big for him.”
AS: You were recently recognized by the White House for responding to a call by President Obama to help strengthen the bonds of fathers and families with the Fatherhood Ticket Program. How has that been going and is it continuing with the Falcons next year?
RC: “It was very successful considering the short term that we put it together. If you talk to anybody that knows me, they’ll tell you that my family is the most important thing to me. My kids [Raven (7) and Rhea (4)] are the most important thing to me. It came about because I just didn’t think a lot of fathers got the recognition that they should. You always hear about guys who aren’t in their kids’ lives and guys who are not doing what they’re supposed to do. You never hear the stories about men who take active roles in their kids’ lives. I just wanted to find a way and create a way to celebrate that. I came up with the ticket program and it was a way for kids to show their appreciation to their fathers by writing the letters as opposed to the mom or someone else. For me it was very successful. I look forward to continuing it moving forward. I’m kind of excited about it. I’m waiting on the schedule to come out so I can start preparing that and getting that going again.”
AS: Were and are you close with your father and how did that relationship impact this or other endeavors?
RC: “I have a very close relationship with my father. We talk every morning and most of the time in the evening, too, when I’m driving home from work. Not only just my father, I had some other influential fathers including some of my closest friends. I’ve always been a person to kind of sit back and observe and kind of see what’s going on. I’ve been blessed to have great men around me, people I can learn from and take different things from each one of those guys. I’ve incorporated that into myself and my role as a parent.”
AS: Now let’s talk about the brand new Florida Players Network. Where did the idea for the organization come from, what is your position and what are the goals going forward?
RC: “He’ll fight me for saying it, but I think Terry Jackson took the lead role in creating this. It’s just a way for us former players to give back to the community of Gainesville and, in the process, allow us to reconnect and create a strong brotherhood. It’s players from the 70s, 80s, 90s and the 2000s. It’s everybody. If you played at Florida and played Florida football, it’s open to you. We want to get together and host different events and raise money to give back to different charities in Gainesville. Right now we’re in our development stages, but we have a lot of subcommittees from all different spectrums. Right now I don’t have a role per se because I have to play everything by ear with my schedule and what I’m allowed to do and when I have free time. We have a conference call every Wednesday night where all of us former players are on the line.
“It’ll show the younger players there now the importance of staying in touch with your teammates. We hope to teach them the importance of Florida football. There are so many guys getting involved. I’d say we’ve probably gotten in contact with over 500 former players. Each conference call gets larger and larger. Just some of the names who have pledged to help include Reidel Anthony, Ike Hilliard, Ernie Dubose, Terry Jackson, Nafis Karim, Lito Sheppard and Nat Moore. It’s a bunch of great guys, and all these guys are taking part in different subcommittees to put their heads in it and do their part.”
AS: What would you like fans to know about the network and how can they get involved, help and hang out with some of their favorite players growing up?
“I would say go visit the website, which is FloridaPlayersNetwork.org. They can sign up to be volunteers for different events that we have, because we’re always going to need volunteers to help us with the events. If they have a business or a company, they can sponsor a hole in the golf tournament or bring a two-some or a four-some and sign up and pay for those. We’ll all be there and we’ll all interact with everybody that’s there. The more fan support we can get, the better. It allows us to reconnect with the fans and give back to those people and show them that we are appreciative for everything they’ve given us.”
AS: It sounds like in addition to the charitable efforts, the FPN is also looking to strengthen the bond and relationship between the players with the Gators?
RC: “When all those guys that went to UF, when those guys went to the NFL – guys like Alex Brown, Andra Davis, Gerard Warren – those guys always came back and told us how to make it in the NFL and what the NFL is about. That motivated us and those guys coming out to our workouts and working out with us allowed us to look for them to guidance. They were our big brothers. I hope that we can provide that to these younger guys who are coming out, too.”