Much-maligned ASU QB Carpenter knows this year will define him (cont.)
No one outside the team will ever know the real truth of what went down behind Koetter's quarterback flip-flop. There have been enough conspiracy theories stemming from the situation to warrant an Oliver Stone screenplay. There was talk that Keller's excessive partying and alleged substance abuse was brought to Koetter's attention after he was named the starter. At the very least, the ever-growing gallery of unflattering pictures of him popping up online had to wave a few red flags about his commitment to football. There was talk that Carpenter threatened to transfer if he wasn't named the starter and that his father, Scott, flew in and told Koetter as much. Then there was that infamous team meeting where the Sun Devils' Leadership Group, a collection of about 15 juniors and seniors, sided with Carpenter over Keller in a closed door meeting with Koetter.
"I never threatened to leave. I wanted to leave." said Carpenter. "The reason why I wanted to leave was because I had seen the writing on the wall during spring practice. I felt that I had clearly beaten Sam out during spring practice and I wasn't named the starter. I actually wanted to transfer then. Nobody knows about that."
Koetter was able to convince Carpenter to stay, promising him that he'd get every chance to earn the starting job during camp. But Carpenter felt Koetter didn't live up to his end of the bargain, awarding the job to Keller based on seniority rather than performance on the field and in the film room. That's when he and his father had a meeting with Koetter where they expressed their feelings. "My dad came in with me to talk to Coach Koetter and I don't know why that was made into a big deal because any coach in any program when they're making a decision like that, they're not only going to talk to the player, they're going to consult the parents as well," said Carpenter. "People made a big deal that my dad was there to do the dirty work for me, but it wasn't like that at all."
"I knew that I worked hard and practiced hard and I lived my life the right way and I did things right and I knew people on the team respected that and felt that I had won the starting job through practice. Because I knew that, I wanted coach Koetter to know that and that's why he talked to the players on the team and that's when they expressed their views and he felt that, 'Hey, this is a team and this is family and we're going to make the best decision for the family and not just for one person.' "
No matter how logical or reasoned Carpenters explanation of the situation may be, he will never be able to win over that contingent of fans that see him as a spoiled child, who transferred over a dispute with coaches while he was in high school and nearly did the same in college. "I think people around here got the perception that I was a cry baby, that I wanted it my way, like I was going to take my ball and go home and all those things," said Carpenter. "That's not really true but I understand that's the biggest reason that the fans turned their back on me."
Carpenter is the antithesis of everything Keller was rumored to be. Carpenter doesn't go out. He doesn't drink, he doesn't smoke and he can't remember the last time he's strolled down Mill Ave. "It's not that I'm not social," he said. "I hang out with my teammates, but I would prefer to hang out with them outside of the bars and the clubs because I don't think that there are many good things that can happen in those types of places."
He spends most of his time with his girlfriend, Briana Hunter, a student at the Art Institute of Phoenix who he met through mutual friends while he was a true freshman and she was a senior at Hamilton High in nearby Chandler, Ariz. They share an apartment about a block away from campus on University Drive and spend most of their nights watching reality shows over dinner such as Intervention, The First 48 and The Real World.
"She's my best friend and we hang out 24/7," he said. "Football is my life, but the few hours that I have outside of football, it's good to be with someone that doesn't care that much about football. I mean she's one of my biggest fans and is never afraid to tell me after a game, 'What were you thinking on that play? That was terrible. Why are you throwing picks?' But I appreciate that about her."
The only thing that might compare to Carpenter's love for football is his affinity to boxing. Growing up with the sport around the house and on television, Carpenter's father gave Rudy and his brother and new pair of gloves every Christmas. They would beat each other up, but that was fine just as long as they didn't cry or lay on the ground for long. That lesson was branded into Carpenter's head when he was a 10-year-old Pop Warner player and got hit in his leg and fell to the ground and started to cry. Carpenter's father ran onto the field picked him and sat him on the bench and told him, "If you ever lie on the field and cry like that, I'll never let you play another sport again."
Since then Carpenter has picked himself up off the ground after every play, even when he should probably stay down at times with . "I don't know how he got up after some of the hits he took last season," said wide receiver Chris McGaha. "I saw a couple of those hits and I know I wouldn't have gotten up from that."
When asked what boxer he would most identify himself with, he pauses for a moment before showing off his historical knowledge of the sweet science. "I like George Chuvalo," he says of the Canadian heavyweight who was never knocked down in 93 professional fights between 1956 and 1979. "He fought for a long time and fought Ali twice and was never knocked off his feet. Some of those fights he lost, but he had a lot that happened to him throughout his life as well as a lot that happened to him in the ring and he got robbed a couple times, but he always came back and always kept on fighting and that's kind of what I try to do."
As he prepares to gingerly get up from the bleachers and head back to campus, long after most of his teammates have already changed and grabbed lunch, Carpenter reiterates that the only way to win over fans is by performing on the field and to that extent, he believes his legacy at Arizona State will be defined by what he does this season, not by the controversy and critics that have hovered over him the past two years.
"I don't think I could lie to you and tell you I don't know what I have a chance to do," he said. "I think anyone who says that is lying. I definitely know that I can be the all-time leader in wins, the all-time leader in yards, the all-time leader in touchdowns, the all-time leader in completion percentage, yeah I know all that. I know I could be the first quarterback to beat our rival four straight times. I know all that and yeah, it's very important to me."