A Black & Gold Dilemma For Carey??

By Tony Grossi
Updated: May 8, 2009

Don Carey

Don Carey

CLEVELAND — Don Carey, the cornerback from Norfolk State drafted by the Browns in the sixth round, thought he was going to be drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. That would have made his father real happy.

“My father’s side of the family is all from Pittsburgh,” Carey said. “They are Steelers fanatics. My uncle’s the only guy I know who has a [kicker Jeff] Reed jersey.

“I thought the Steelers were taking me in the fourth or fifth round. I had a workout with them, had a visit there, spoke with [coach] Mike Tomlin twice, spoke to the GM, had phone calls with them.”

Surrounded by his family in a sports bar in Norfolk, Va., reserved to celebrate the occasion of the draft, Carey fielded calls from multiple teams as the sixth round began.

“When I got the call from the Browns, it was a shock,” he said. “They told me they were going to take me with the next pick. I didn’t tell anybody. I waited for my name to flash on the TV screen. So it comes up, and [family members] were like, ‘Yaaaaay.’ Then it was like, ‘Ugh. The Browns?’ ”

Carey admitted that some of his father’s allegiance to the Steelers rubbed off on him, but he’s smart enough to point out “that was a long time ago . . . the Browns are my favorite team now.”

Smart is the word most used so far to describe Carey.

“Very smart. Has upside,” says one scouting report on him.

Asked if Carey would benefit from having been exposed to some principles of the 3-4 defense at Norfolk State, Browns coach Eric Mangini said, “I don’t think it would matter what we were playing; he seems pretty smart.”

Smart in the classroom and on the field.

His former high school coach once described Carey as “a film rat. He constantly watched film in high school.”

Carey wasn’t highly recruited as a football player. As a student, he was offered financial aid to attend Michigan, Colgate and Yale University, among other prestigious academic institutions.

Instead, he accepted a full ride to play football at Norfolk State, a historically black university in the MEAC. “With my family’s financial background, it was an easy decision to make,” he said. “I’m blessed and honored to have that opportunity to go to Yale, but when it came down to it, reality set in.

“My mind got me to college. Football paid for it.”

Carey started four years at cornerback and some safety at Norfolk State. Projected as a potential undrafted free agent early in the draft process, Carey started appearing on NFL radar after impressive practices at the Shrine Game. Then he preserved a win for his side by knocking down a pass in the end zone in the game.

That week got him inside the door. He made favorable impressions in the endless interviews with NFL teams at the all-star game and NFL Combine.

“He’s got some of the qualities and skill level that you innately look for, and then you’ve got to kind of project it and say this guy, once he comes up and puts his head in the books and really works on the technique, that we could really have something,” said Browns General Manager George Kokinis.

Carey’s father displayed Steelers memorabilia in the family home. But now the stuff has been moved to the garage as Carey builds his own trophy room filled with mementos of his budding career. So far he’s framed and hung the shirts he wore at the Shrine Game and the combine, plus a letter sent to him by Kokinis after the Browns’ initial interview.

“Our scouts felt that the kid was such a good kid,” Kokinis said. “We normally send some [letters] out towards the latter half of the draft or some of the guys, but [the scout] came back, and he was like, ‘Hey, listen, this kid is a great kid, and it would be something sort of special if he just got something from us.’ ”

So it was quite a day when Carey was drafted. Another one will come next spring when Carey completes the four credit hours needed to earn a bachelor’s degree in building construction technology. He could earn it this summer, but he wants to wait for the semi-annual commencement ceremonies at Norfolk State.

“My mother wants to see me graduate, and it’ll mean a lot to her to see me walk across the stage,” Carey said. “She made sure I was a student athlete, not just an athlete. I used to get grounded for C’s in high school.”

During the four days of the combine, Carey wrote a blog posted on the Norfolk State athletics department Web site.

He ended it by writing, “You can’t be lucky all the time, but you can be smart every day.”