Ever wonder what it’s like to sit down with a pro football player and find out what a day in his life is like? Well, here at Parlé magazine, we were fortunate enough to do just that. Jake Coughlan talked with NFL Free Agent cornerback Ahmad Carroll who played for the New York Jets last year. Carroll talks career choices, his charity, and courage in the exclusive interview with Parlé.
Parlé: Tell me about your childhood and about being born and raised in Atlanta. How did it create who you’ve become?
Ahmad: I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and my dad got me into playing football and two other sports, basketball and baseball when I was around four. Everybody in my neighborhood and everybody I grew up with played sports. So, I was always playing basketball in somebody’s yard and just staying outside a lot. Even at school, you itched to get that chance to go out for recess. When I got older I had to narrow it down to the sports I found myself really good at and it was track and football.
Parlé: Did you go to the University of Arkansas to play football in order to play professionally or did you go to play football for fun?
Ahmad: Arkansas became a blessing, man. I had originally committed to the University of Georgia – I always wanted to go there. It was between them, Florida State and Clemson, I had narrowed it down to those three. But then something bad happened. The head coach of Georgia got fired, Jim Donnan at the time, three weeks before the day I had to sign. Then Houston Nutt came in and his energy and enthusiasm took my mind to Arkansas. Seeing how many track national championships they have and the stability just what kind of person he was, he pretty much came in and stole me away and I went to Arkansas and I had a great time. If it wasn’t for me and my family being in Atlanta, I wouldn’t have any problem living there. It was a wonderful opportunity at the University to take my game to another level.
Parlé: Ok, so you skipped your senior year at Arkansas to go Pro. Take me back to 2004. You were drafted in the first round by the Packers. Talk to me about what you envisioned for yourself 10 years down the road. What were your dreams and what did you have for expectations? As far as now, in 2010, how does that compare to what you saw yourself doing?
Ahmad: Just coming to the NFL was a humbling experience – getting the opportunity to play against these athletes at that level of play. As I got older I got the opportunity to spend more time with my family and I realized that football is a great tool to set yourself up for life. It was a good experience being in Green Bay. I came in kind of young – I was 20 years old when I got drafted. But the whole experience in itself was wonderful. I learned a lot on the field, but off the field I’ve got my family. Like, right now, I’m getting ready to pick my little boy up from school. He’s playing tee ball and he’s already started football practice. It just seems like time in flying. If I could say anything about anybody going into the NFL is to go into it humble and make sure that everything off the field is put aside away from football.
Parlé: So you played for the Jets last year, and were cut by them in November. What’s your plan now? Are you planning to retire or staying a free agent and seeing what happens?
Ahmad: My plan now is to just continue to play in the NFL. I’m just working out every day and talking to my agent at least once a week so he can let me know what’s going on. Things don’t move for a free agent until after the draft, but I’m anxious to get out there and play. I’m still young. I’m only 26 years old going into my 6th year in the NFL. So I’m just anxious to get out there and see what team I’m going to be with and that main goal is the Super Bowl ring. That’s why people play the game and the more years you play it seems harder and harder to get.
Parlé: Not that you have much of a choice as a free agent but is there a team you really want to play for? Maybe the Falcons, being from Atlanta? Me being a Patriots fan, we’d love to see you there, too. So is there any team or coach that you would love to play for the most?
Ahmad: Of course I love being home close to my family but I just want to play for a contender, man. Somebody that’s going to have the opportunity to go and play for a Super Bowl ring. If a team pops up in Alaska that has a good chance at it, I’d even go play for that team.
Parlé: I want to talk to you about persistence. You’ve bounced between three teams and never spent more than three years with a team. Tell me about how frustrating this can be and tell me about what it is inside of you that tells yourself to keep going? If a team doesn’t want you to be a franchise player, what do you tell yourself to convince yourself that you’ve got what it takes to play in the NFL?
Ahmad: Just never getting discouraged is part of playing the game and playing in the NFL. But, it’s fun. I can honestly say that playing the game of football is fun. It’s the preparation and getting ready for a team like the Patriots. The notes you take, the tips you get, and all the preparation going into that week all come together when you go out and play that team – it’s beautiful. It’s kind of hard to explain, but it’s just fun. If you’ve been an athlete, you know what I’m saying. I like to see it all come together on Sunday and getting the chance to beat that team and seeing the play you’ve been seeing all week or seeing the formation and you know it’s coming and you’re there to make a good play – it’s just fun. In football, you never know. You could be 0-4 starting the season but you can hit a hot streak and any given Sunday a team can be beat. You got to go out there and play at a higher level every week.
Parlé: It seems like you’ve worked really hard to be confident, re-assuring to yourself, and also humble. I imagine that’s where your Humble Grind campaign came from. Is that still going on? Did you have your Humble Hunt this past Easter?
Ahmad: The Humble Grind Foundation is a foundation I started up about four years ago. It teaches adolescents from the ages of 13-to-18 life skills. We’ve got a lot of kids coming out of high school and we make them select a career choice so when they get out of high school they know what college they’re going to go to and what their major is going to be. Or if they’re not deciding to go to college, what trade they want to pick up and how to get jumpstarted right away. We take them for field trips to their job choice. A lot of kids when they get out of high school they don’t know what a mortgage is, what a bank account is, how to do a resumé, or correct etiquette at a nice restaurant. So, we just try to instill these things in them at a young age so when they do hit the age of 18, they’re ready to hit the ground running ready to become young adults out here. A lot of kids they don’t want to go to college, but we try to give them all the information they need to pick a good career choice and really hit the ground running.
Each year we do the little Humble Hunt for the community. This year we pushed it back. We’re going to do a community fun day, because I had the opportunity to go to Haiti with one of my former teammates, James Ihedigbo, with his Hope Africa Foundation a week before we do the Humble Hunt, so it was pushed back a little bit.
Parlé: That was actually my next question. Talk to me about going to Haiti. For someone that’s been so privileged, what is it like to have an experience so humbling and see these people that have literally had everything stripped from them? Is that why you felt you needed to do this and how did it make you feel afterwards?
Ahmad: Afterwards, I felt a sense of needing to do more with my foundation and reach out and help more people. The whole time I was down in Haiti, the one thing I took with me was that when we were out helping the people and talking to the people that experienced that devastation – nobody complained. They pushed on with everyday life and everything we gave them like water, clothing, food, supplies – they were very thankful to get it. They gave us a sense of when devastation happens you can sit around and moan or you can up and do something about it. That’s one thing I found surprising when I went down there is that the people were trucking along and trying to rebuild and push on with life. Things had to be done and they had no time to sit around and mope. When I came back, people asked what they can do to help, and I tell them to try not to send money. My foundation will take any old clothes, shoes, water and ship them to Wyclef Jean’s foundation, the Yéle Foundation. That’s what the people there really need.
Parlé: Talk to me quickly about how this experience has changed how you look at your life. These people almost literally have nothing. As far as you go, not having the starlet NFL career or the 600 consecutive games in a row of Brett Favre, aren’t you still incredibly lucky? Has this made you realize how lucky you are and that even if you were never signed by another NFL team, you shouldn’t have anything to be upset about, right?
Ahmad: It just lets me appreciate family more. I tell people all the time. They think it’s about the money or being in the NFL…it’s always about family with me. I grew up with a mother and father and I was blessed with that. Brothers, sisters, great grandparents, and great friends I’ve met along the way. The happiest times of my life are when I come home in the offseason and my Dad is out Bar-B-Qing and my nieces and nephews all at the house and playing around and sitting around laughing. We do that all day and night. It’s helped me to appreciate family and just know with situations that happen in the NFL like with Chris Henry, looking back on that, you’ve got to appreciate and set up that family structure. When you have a bad game or you have a great game, you’re going to have that family there when you’re through playing. My family is always going to be here no matter how I’m feeling or what I’m doing so I just try to pay it back to people.
Parlé: This is a question to settle some curiosity of my own. You’ve lined up against some of the best wide receivers in the game, and they get all the credit. So, who is the toughest wide receiver you have ever tried to defend?
Ahmad: He’s no longer playing, but I would have to say my rookie year, it was Jimmy Smith. He was the best wide receiver I’ve ever faced. I tell people that to this day and they get surprised when I tell them that, but that’s the guy I would never like to see heading towards me. I would say Jimmy Smith.
Parlé: Well, I really appreciate your time Ahmad. Good luck this up coming season getting picked up by a contender.
Ahmad: Thanks, I appreciate it.
Written by Jake Coughlan
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