by C.J. Bowles
Greg Carothers' college football career began tragically, at a time when the Huskies' football world came to a stop. It was October of 2000, and players stood in shock and worry as starting safety Curtis Williams was taken off the Stanford Stadium field with a severe neck injury. When the game resumed, however, someone had to take Williams' spot in the lineup.
Enter Greg Carothers.
How did a true freshman from Helena, Mont., rise steadily on the depth chart throughout the fall, and subsequently start the last four games of the season for the eventual Rose Bowl champions?
The answer is talent and hard work. However, that work may have been invested someplace else, were it not for a little help from Montana native Bobby Hauck. The Huskies' special teams and safeties coach, Hauck played a significant role in putting Carothers in a purple and gold jersey in 2000.
"Coach Hauck sold me on this place," says Carothers, now a senior and co-captain. "Though all of the places I was considering had some kind of Montana relation."
Hauck envisioned Carothers as a bruising safety, in the mold of the Huskies' then-starter, Williams. Upon taking over the starting role following Williams' injury, Carothers played like a man possessed, capping an outstanding debut season with a six-tackle performance against Purdue in the Rose Bowl. Carothers made one of the game's key plays, stripping Boilermakers' running back Montrell Lowe of the football and recovering the fumble.
Carothers was credited for his efforts at the end of the season by being named an honorable mention freshman All-American by Rivals.com, and a co-winner of the team's Travis Spring Award, given out to the most outstanding offensive and defensive Husky freshmen.
All this from a player who had nearly given up the game just four years earlier.
"My brother was a basketball player, so I got into basketball as a kid," he says. "My freshman year I wanted to spend all of my time playing basketball, but for whatever reason I continued to play football. It turned out to be my deal."
The experts would agree. Although Carothers starred in basketball and track at Helena Capital High School, it was on the gridiron where he most impressed the critics. Carothers was twice named to the all-state first team as a safety, and was the Class AA State Defensive MVP his senior season.
He was certainly worthy of donning a Husky jersey, but Seattle was a long ways from home.
"I didn't really know what to expect," he says. "I think I adjusted to it a lot faster than I gave myself credit for."
Carothers remembers, with a smile, his first few practices at Husky Stadium.
"Everything was strapped up, everything was tight," he says. "I was hitting people to the ground. I would get kicked out of drills all the time because I was so worried about people running past me. It turned out that coach Hauck likes that kind of stuff, so I think I earned a little spot with him."
The fierce and aggressive play Carothers exhibited in summer workouts earned him the second-string spot at free safety going into his freshman season.
When the moment came for the Huskies to take the field for the first time in the 2000 season, Carothers could hardly contain his excitement.
"It was crazy," he recalls. "I promised myself I wouldn't look up until I got all the way out of the tunnel - I don't know why, that's just what I decided I wanted to do. So right at the base of the tunnel, I looked up and it was just people everywhere. It felt a long, long way from home. The amount of people sitting in the stands was more than I have in my home city!
"I came from a school where we got maybe 3,000 people in the stands, and I thought the roar they made was amazing," Carothers continues. "But when you make a big play here it's like, 'Wow!' Sometimes I get so caught up in the moment that I will forget plays that just happened. I'll make a play and be back in the huddle before I even know it. Even now, after I've been here playing for three years."
Carothers continued to impress during his sophomore and junior campaigns, finishing with 72 tackles in 2001 and 84 in 2002. Last season, he showed a penchant for slipping into the backfield, making at least a half a tackle for loss in 10 of the team's 13 games. Carothers has now started 28 games during his career at Washington, three more than any other UW player.
Carothers and offensive tackle Khalif Barnes were recently discussing who had the most pictures and longest bios in the team's 2003 media guide.
"So I circled that (28 starts) and told him that was the most important," Carothers says with a smile. "I have been fortunate to have had a lot of opportunities. I wasn't really that big of a recruit when I first came in, but I had a good understanding of the game, which I think gave me the opportunity to play earlier than everyone else."
Carothers' modesty is typical of his upbringing.
"I had perfect parents - a dad who's hard to please and a mom who thinks you can't do anything wrong," he says. "I always worked extra hard to impress my dad, but if I felt bad after the game, I had my mom to fall back on - she always thought I had done everything right."
Carothers' parents have attended every UW home game during his career, and, he estimates, roughly 60 percent of the team's games on the road.
This year, Carothers' parents will see their son take on some different roles. The first is a change in position - after three years at strong safety, the coaches have decided to move Carothers to outside linebacker.
"In high school I played receiver, running back, linebacker, safety," he says. "Most of the time when I was playing safety, I was standing where the linebackers were anyway, so I've been playing the position for awhile. At safety, you get such a run into people that you don't have to worry about technique - you just run and hit them. Now, though, I can't just hit them and expect them to get out of my way."
While some players might fight a position change, Carothers takes it all in stride.
"I just want to play," he says. "As long as I get to play, it doesn't matter where I am. I just want to continue to play and, hopefully, be successful."
His team-first attitude has much to do with Carothers' second new role in 2003, that of team captain. Along with fellow seniors Cody Pickett and Terry Johnson, Carothers was chosen by his teammates to lead them this season.
"I'm not the 'Hey, I'm the leader, everybody follow me,' kind of guy. I try to just lead by example," he says. "I do talk, but mostly I like to show what I can do by how I play."
Obviously, his fellow players have gotten the message. Husky fans, too, have been well aware of how Carothers can play, from his outstanding Rose Bowl performance in 2001 to his statistical excellence in each of the last two seasons.
"It's been really, really cool," Carothers says. "Now that I look back at it, it seems kind of all a blur right now, but if I stop for a second and think about every single game, I've had a great, great deal going for me here. I've had a lot of great games that I've been able to play in and a lot of great experiences.
"But whatever may come, I'll always be a Montana kid."