Monday, Aug. 10, 2020 | 9 a.m.
The Faith Lutheran high school football team received a surprise motivational message from a star professional going into last season.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr sent a video wishing the Crusaders good luck and urging them to work hard over the upcoming months. Carr had known then-Faith Lutheran coach Vernon Fox since he was a child and was happy to reconnect ahead of the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas.
“It was a really nice personal message to our football team,” Faith Lutheran CEO Steven Buuck recalled. “I think that’s what started this. I asked Derek how he had heard about us, and it was through his brother and through Vernon.”
Faith Lutheran’s football field became an unlikely ground zero for the Raiders’ inaugural season locally when Carr led a series of offseason workouts with teammate tight ends and receivers there in May. The informal throwing sessions eventually expanded and moved to a pair of parks in Southern Highlands for the next couple months before the Raiders began their official training camp two weeks ago at the team headquarters in Henderson.
With the new NFL coronavirus protocols, they aren’t permitted to begin full practices until this week — helmet-only on Wednesday and full pads on Sunday — but Carr is confident the Raiders are ahead of schedule. The 90-minute to two-hour training periods he spearheaded over the spring and early summer could give the Raiders a leg-up on the competition.
“There’s no preseason and all these things, so being able to do that, I’m telling you…if any team did more than us, I would be completely shocked,” Carr said.
Carr is quick to point out that all the sessions adhered to state social-distancing guidelines and featured as much hand sanitizer as pigskin. Faith Lutheran asked Carr to limit workouts on its field to 15 players, and he abided.
Living and training through quarantine right after moving to a new city wasn’t ideal, but Carr said the experience helped him feel more at home.
“I get little kids running up wearing your jersey and all this kind of stuff,” he said. “They find out what park you’re throwing at and they stand there and they just want to watch because they’re just so blown away that there is an NFL team here…It’s just an exciting time for football in this town.”
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Carr can relate to kids loitering around football because that’s how he spent his childhood.
He was always around the Fresno State program from 1997-2001 when his older brother, David Carr, turned a prolific college career into becoming the top overall NFL Draft pick. Fox, a star safety who graduated from Cimarron-Memorial High, became close friends with David Carr after the two arrived at Fresno State and graduated to go onto the NFL at the same time.
That means Fox first met Derek Carr when the quarterback-to-be was 6 years old.
“He was always throwing the ball whether it was at our practices or spring games,” Fox remembered. “I remember him always being out there with his Fresno State hat on backwards chucking the ball. He had a heck of an arm as a young kid and you knew he was coming up the ranks with the family’s quarterback legacy.”
Carr still carries a childlike enthusiasm into football. He posted snippets of the offseason workouts onto his personal YouTube channel, and beyond his ability, the most noticeable thing was his joy.
In one particular video, he keeps turning to the camera after making big throws —a dart on a quick out route to receiver Zay Jones, a strike in the middle of the field to tight end Darren Waller and a deep rope that splits two defensive backs down the seam.
Dedication has long been among Carr’s best attributes. Even his detractors — of which there are many with Carr himself discussing being “disrespected” coming into the season — can’t question his work ethic.
Carr’s exhaustive preparation is what most struck running back Josh Jacobs during his rookie season last year. Even after spending three seasons at Alabama under coach Nick Saban, Jacobs credits Carr’s tutelage for expanding his game.
“People don’t see all the work he puts in,” Jacobs said earlier this year. “He’s taught me so much about football.”
The Raiders have only been allowed to go through walkthroughs to this point in training camp, but coach Jon Gruden has spoken highly of his team’s sharpness. They arrived ready to go.
Gruden can’t say if the focus is a direct result of Carr’s efforts over the offseason because he wasn’t permitted to be a part of the activities, but he likes the reports he’s heard.
“It’s a credit to Carr,” Gruden said. “It’s a credit to his passion for the game, his will to win and his leadership. But I don’t know too much about (the workouts.)”
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Buuck knows more about the workouts than Gruden.
A former college quarterback at Concordia University in Wisconsin and high school football coach in Texas, Buuck couldn’t stay when Carr and his receivers were out a short walk away from his office. He wasn’t sure what to expect after giving Carr’s agent the green light for the quarterback to use the field from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. every day one week, but ended up blown away on the first day.
Players like Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller cycled onto the school’s Summerlin campus and immediately got to work under Carr’s direction.
“He was just so clearly in charge,” Buuck said of Carr. “He was saying this and that, what’s going on and people respected him. There was just no jerking around. I thought with 15 guys, there would be some jerking around. There was not a coach out there and these guys were just locked in.”
Carr said he felt like he owed his best to the rookies and players fighting for playing time this year. Without their usual schedule of minicamps and access to team facilities, non-veterans may find it hard to get onto the field and contribute significantly this season.
At least that’s the feeling around the NFL. Knowing rookie receivers like Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards can potentially add new dimensions to the Raiders’ offense, Carr wanted to make sure they got enough play repetitions in before camp.
And by all reports, everyone was happy to take the seventh-year quarterback’s direction.
“You could see where you would want to play for this guy,” Buuck said. “He has that cool blend of humility and confidence you don’t see in many people. He just has this presence.”
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Carr’s work didn’t stop at only places where people like Buuck and autograph-hounding children could catch a glimpse.
Ruggs missed most of those workouts after puncturing his leg helping a friend move in May, but said he went to Carr’s house and caught passes on at least one occasion. Carr had many teammates over to his new home throughout the summer, contingent on a negative coronavirus test, for barbecues, pool parties, and yes, more pass-and-catch.
He was determined not to let the state of the world prevent the Raiders from jelling.
“We still spent time together,” Carr said. “We just had to do it in a weird, different way.”
Optimism from quarterbacks is as constant as fiery speeches from coaches and two-a-days this time of year, but Carr is adamant in his belief that the Raiders are in a better spot heading into this season. The offense specifically has been getting in sync for three months.
The hope is that quarterback-receiver chemistry and long completions come as easily at Allegiant Stadium as they did on Faith Lutheran’s field.
“I’m very, very excited to be able to go put on display what I think we are going to be able to do and I’m not going to say much more than that,” Carr said. “We have to go prove it, but when we break the huddle, no matter what personnel group we are in, I’m really excited.”