The second part of the Mark Carrier interview
In 1989 Carrier burst through the negative perception surrounding Tampa Bay football to earn a Pro Bowl berth. Carrier’s 1,422 yards and 9 touchdowns led the team and sent him to Hawaii. Among those catches were two amazing plays against the 49ers and Bears respectively. Employing a combination balance, dexterity and timing, on both occasions Carrier deflected a pass away from a defender and to himself before hitting the ground. While impressing broadcaster Dan Fouts, the plays to Carrier were almost second-nature.

“I attribute that to being a basketball player,” Carrier said. “I was a better basketball player than football player to be honest with you. I played basketball very successfully in high school. I actually wanted to play college basketball. That hand-eye coordination, leaping ability, the ability to snatch things out of the air, those are things that are needed to be successful as a basketball player, but they also helped in my position football-wise.”

“Now I see my fourteen year old son who is a pretty good basketball player and is also a wide receiver. Those things are kind of rubbing off on him as well, that hand-eye coordination.”

“It was truly an honor to make the Pro Bowl. It was after individually a great year, where I was able to make a name for myself. I gained the respect of my peers, and that is what guys look at because every fan has a favorite. A fan in Seattle may never see me play in Tampa. But the players around the league know who the successful players are.”

Mark Carrier played in Tampa Bay until 1992, following Vinny Testaverde to the Cleveland Browns in 1993 where he finally made a playoff appearance. After the Browns, Carrier spent time with Carolina before leaving the game in 1998.

During his time in the NFL Carrier said he always tried to learn from other players. Carrier freely admits that he spent time on the sideline watching other receivers to see what he could copy, and he watched Jerry Rice particularly closely.

“To be quite honest I don’t know any player that doesn’t watch great players play,” Carrier said. “If anything, you watch just to learn from them and to see their style. I watched Jerry Rice from the sideline when he was on offense just to learn. Just to watch the techniques he used. I think 99% of the team did as well!”

Carrier admits that lining up against Ricky Reynolds in practice everyday made him a better receiver because of the talent and work ethic the defensive back possessed. When it came to taking on other defensive backs, Carrier says that one man in particular gave everyone fits.

“The best opponent talent-wise without a doubt was Deion Sanders. He had the knack to shut down an entire side of the field. That mainly was because of the respect coaches gave him. You receive a gameplan instructing people not to throw against him. That is a sign of respect better than any interception.”

“I also played against some physical guys. I hated going against Hanford Dixon and Frank Minniefield (both of the Cleveland Browns). Particularly Dixon because he had long arms and he played a bump and run that was a battle.”

Upon retiring Carrier moved back to Tampa. When asked why he chose Tampa out of all of his stops, Carrier admitted that he always felt the Bay Area was home. “When I was drafted I actually fell in love with the city. It has changed tremendously since I’ve been here over 20 years. I developed some roots, got married, my wife liked Tampa and it was ideal. It’s about 10, 11 hours from Louisiana so we can access it easily.

The weather is beautiful and I’ve picked up golf so I can play year round. And it’s kid-friendly, I’m only an hour from Disney. It has a lot of positives. I loved Cleveland, but it was just too cold. I couldn’t deal with the cold weather. Charlotte was nice, kind of in between Cleveland and Tampa. It has a little cold but still was Southern.”

Carrier now runs The Next Level in Athletic Training in Tampa. Next Level is a personal fitness program Carrier has crafted for young athletes with designs on earning a college scholarship or entertaining notions of a professional career. What better example than a man who worked his way from a small high school to the Pro Bowl in just a few short years?

“The ages range anywhere from nine, ten years old to teenagers who are in college or are trying to enter college. Basically it is fitness training, football training. No particular positions, though I do some individual coaching for receivers. For the most part it is for kids who are trying to excel, get in shape or get in condition for the sport they are particularly interested in.”

“I’ve had two football camps this year and did one last year. I had roughly 60 kids and it worked out real well.”

When asked how he got the idea to provide aspiring football players with a taste of what it takes to earn a scholarship, Carrier said it was in response to a request from a former Buccaneer teammate.

“The main thing is once I retired from football a former teammate of mine was a local high school football coach and he asked me to come on board and help him out. I was there with him for a little over a year and a half and in the midst of that time I received a lot of requests for individual coaching from the parents of the kids.

"I was fortunate enough that a couple of guys I coached while I was there received scholarships to play college ball. So, I just kind of experimented with doing it, and it became a passion where I saw that I could take someone who is young and has all the talent in the world and develop their skill.”

The teammate Carrier helped was none other than his practice foe Ricky Reynolds. “We actually got drafted together so we have known each other since 1987. So he’s been instrumental in helping me with the camps and he has done some training with me and for me when I have been out of town. He and I are actually trying to partner up and take this to the next level, so to speak. We would like to put on clinics, like seven on seven camps where he would take defensive backs and I of course would take on wide receivers.”

If Carrier and Reynolds are half as successful training defensive backs and wide receivers as they were playing those positions for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, then high school football on Florida’s west coast is in good hands.