Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Cyrus McCrimmon / THE DENVER POST
AAron Ontiveroz / THE DENVER POST
He’s no longer the toughest, strongest, most-seasoned and talented guy on the field. In fact, the only times he actually gets to be on the field now are during practice and that’s mostly while performing on the scout team.
He hasn’t been eligible to play in his team’s football games as his status was changed to redshirt at midseason. So his patience and learning skills are taxed daily.
He’s also far from home, basically an afterthought on a major-college program, and a student thrown into the proverbial higher-education fire of three-hour lectures, pop quizzes, hours of study, lengthy term papers and demanding final examinations.
“He got what he asked for,” said Tom McCartney, his coach a year ago at Fairview High School. “and it’s normal.”
And Carlo Kemp loves it.
The former Knight, who was All-Everything in Colorado as well as a four-year starter, is being humbled, tested and challenged in all areas of being a student-athlete for Michigan’s Wolverines.
Bring it on, he says.
“This is the school,” Kemp said before a short break leading to Christmas, then leaving to join the team in Miami for the Capital One Orange Bowl matchup against Florida State Friday night at Hard Rock Stadium. “I wouldn’t trade anything or want to be anywhere else. I’ve got everything I love about it, all the football and all my teammates and all my coaches.”
As grounded as he is determined, Kemp, 6-foot-3 and now up to 275 pounds as a defensive end, spoke candidly about his new world, which he entered a semester early about a year ago.
On Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh: “He’s still labor intensive. He said, ‘This isn’t a vacation. We’re going to win a game.’ … He’s an offensive-minded guy.
“When I’m on scout defense, if I make a play at least the head coach is right there to see it. Harbaugh’s the man, he’s everywhere in practice, always with the offense, always with special teams, always coming down to see the defensive one-on-one drills.
“He’s the captain of the ship, very personable and easy to talk to, the type of coach you want to play for.”
On redshirting and only getting in on a few plays (that are considered unofficial): “It’s not bad. I have to look at it in a positive light, I go against the first string every day. I attack it with the mentality that it’s the way you make it.”
On the talent level versus what he played against as a Knight: “Oh, it’s a big jump. You go from some people who can play (in high school) to everybody can play. There’s not one person, not one on our defense, who deserves to be on the bench.”
On the importance put on practice in college football: “It’s just a process of learning and learning how to practice and seeing the premium that’s put on practice and how it determines your reps and how you play in the game. Every practice is a battle for your spot. It’s still hard (not to be playing), it’s just all about how you look at it. I’m not playing this week, well, OK, let’s see how Chris Wormley practices, our All-American defensive end, let’s see how he does it.”
On viewing film as a Wolverine as opposed to a Knight: “There’s just a different way to watching it in college. In high school, I was just watching it. Here, you love the film, you put yourself in the play and run it through. You watch the same play 10, 20, 30 times over and it really gets ingrained in your head. You learn the tendencies.”
On Michigan’s demanding academics: “Football is a challenge, but academics here are just as tough of a challenge (he has a 3.0 grade-point average).”
On being out on his own for the first time: “This has really made me appreciate how good I had it (at home in Boulder). There are things I just didn’t know. My bed being made, food in the fridge, clothes always folded and ready to pick up … (I’m only homesick) at the moments when I have nothing going on, walking to my dorm late at night or when I can’t fall asleep.”
McCartney was a graduate assistant at the University of Colorado when the late Rashaan Salaam struggled early as a Buffalo. He went on to win the Heisman Trophy and play in the NFL. The coach insists college freshman go through this type of ordeal nearly every time.
“You just went to the University of Michigan, you’re playing in the Orange Bowl, and you’re on one of the best teams in the country, and every player they recruit at your position will be great and were the best players on their high-school teams and you’re a first-year guy,” the coach said. “So stay with it and believe in yourself. Don’t allow the different stuff to get into your head … The bottom line is, you have tremendous talent and ability yourself. So stay the course and see how it plays out. I know that he will.”
Kemp’s lineage should be a supporting factor, McCartney added. Grandpa Sam Pagano was an accomplished prep and overseas coach, who’s still a legend in Boulder. Uncles Chuck (head coach of Indianapolis Colts) and John (assistant with the San Diego Chargers) are there as is his mother, Jennifer, who was vital to the Mile High Football Camp and still works with the Knights.
Kemp said he’ll gladly stay the course.
“I just have to make it happen, just keep working through this Christmas camp and start a whole year fresh, starting in January workouts and spring ball,” Kemp said. “And, hopefully, I’ll make it happen.”