By Lew Freedman | The Tribune
One measure of how far the reputation of Indiana University’s football program has come in the last year is the arrival in Bloomington of running back Stephen Carr.
Carr is a transfer from the University of Southern California. That’s right, a transfer from USC, long known as Tailback U., to IU, long known as a hapless program lodged near the bottom of the Big Ten standings.
Carr, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound Gardena, California, native, shows up in the Midwest during a time of need. Although such fellows as Tim Baldwin are maturing in the Hoosier backfield, this NCAA policy of allowing players to keep on playing after finishing undergraduate work and not be forced to sit out after transferring means Carr can play Saturday against Iowa.
When it comes to Trojan lore, he will never be mentioned in the same breath as Marcus Allen, O.J. Simpson, Charles White or Reggie Bush, but Carr did average 5 yards per carry for 1,329 yards and caught 57 passes, so his prospects of being a neat hole-filler for IU are high.
Carr said his mother supported him trying out a new environment to conclude his college career, which seemed in some ways to peak as a freshman in 2017 when he was chosen Pac-12 honorable mention.
As the new guy on the Hoosier block, he has acted humbly, saying he can improve on what he did in SoCal, and in a low-key manner, he commented he might be able to do the Hoosiers some good.
“The team accepted me really good,” he said. “I was trying to take advantage of all the opportunities they (coaches) were giving me.”
Carr has a highly ranked advocate in house. Deland McCullough, associate head coach for running backs, held that type of title with USC when Carr broke in with the Trojans. That was before McCullough became an assistant coach with the Kansas City Chiefs and won a Super Bowl ring.
McCullough, new to IU as of February, has supervised seven 1,000-yard collegiate rushing seasons in seven years and coached five runners to the NFL.
“He has taught me about the game more than any other coach,” Carr said of his previous association with McCullough.
Clearly, the connection was a difference-maker in Carr’s landing spot. Carr wants to play in the NFL, and he needs to showcase his talent this fall to have any shot of doing so.
McCullough has good memories of Carr as a freshman, and this older, more mature, more experienced version of the younger player may be a boon to IU.
“I knew the skill set would be high level,” McCullough said. “I’ve known him a while. It’s a continuation of what we did at SC. We can all go to the mountaintop together.”
There is a subdued excitement about what Carr can bring to the offense. Carr doesn’t have Hall of Fame statistics, so people are trying not giddy, and they don’t want to insult other running backs who should be around longer than this season.
Still, Carr’s presence looms as an important one. The Hoosiers want more production on the ground than they received during the 6-2 season of 2020, but they also want to spread around the carries.
“I’m going to play several guys,” McCullough said. “But yes, there is a going to be a lead horse runner.”
Lead horse, though not necessarily a solo workhorse like a Derrick Henry tank who lately has galloped nearly 400 times a season as a Tennessee Titan.
“I think there are diminishing returns, burning out,” McCullough said of riding one runner too much.
Carr should have his number called regularly enough. There is little doubt McCullough is a fan from his straightforward analysis of Carr’s potential.
“He runs with speed,” McCullough said. “He runs with power. He makes guys miss.”
Recently, Carr was asked if he felt any heat stepping into a new situation with a new team with his USC brand.
“There’s always pressure,” Carr said. “You can’t let that pressure get to you. I love those situations.”
Stephen Carr should love his Indiana situation. His time is now.