Patience Pays Off For USC's Brandon Carswell
Bob Carswell was talking out loud but to none of the 15 people in the room. His eyes intent on the television screen, he began to lean forward in his chair further and further.
USC quarterback Matt Barkley avoided a diving Virginia defensive tackle and rolled to his right. Carswell knew his son, redshirt junior receiver Brandon Carswell, was lined up in the slot position to the right.
Barkley unsuccessfully tried to motion outside receiver Ronald Johnson to cut across the middle of the field before throwing off his back foot.
“I continued my progressions,” Barkley said. “Brandon Carswell did a great job of coming back across, getting open, keeping the play alive. I just put it in there.”
Brandon caught the ball on the 1-yard line and slid between two defenders to score his first collegiate touchdown with one second remaining in the half. He ran to the back of the end zone, where he froze for a second of reflection on a nearly four-year touchdown drought.
“I was stuck. My first one,” Brandon said. “I just sat there for a minute like ‘Man, did this really happen. He actually threw it to me. Yes!’”
What Brandon lacked in celebration, his family more than made up for. More than 350 miles away, the large group of family members that gathered at the Carswells’ Milpitas home began jumping and screaming in exclamation.
Brandon’s mother, Jackie Carswell, said her entire body was sore for three days after she furiously leaped out of her seat and couldn’t stop bouncing around as she wailed in excitement.
The family immediately received an onslaught of phone calls, texts and messages. So many that it took almost 20 minutes before the lines were free and the Carswell parents could reach their eldest son, Bobby, who was at the game.
Inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Brandon’s older brother and best friend, Bobby, was “going crazy.”
“It was surreal,” he said. “We’ve been waiting for a moment like this. It’s been a long time coming.”
Almost four years had passed since Brandon’s last touchdown during his senior season of high school, when he was the main offensive threat for Milpitas High. He led the school to its first ever CIF Central Coast Section large school championship in 2006, accumulating 34 combined touchdowns as a quarterback and receiver.
After being recruited by none other than Lane Kiffin, Brandon chose to attend USC. But Kiffin was hired by the Oakland Raiders before Brandon ever stepped on campus.
Fresh out of high school, Brandon wanted to make an immediate impact but former USC head coach Pete Carroll redshirted him. The receiver was frustrated, but his father, an assistant coach at Milpitas, said the redshirt year was a blessing in disguise -- it gave Brandon the opportunity to learn and mature.
Brandon spent the next two seasons as a backup, catching six passes for 28 yards, but he didn’t let the limited playing time get him down.
“He’s stayed upbeat throughout everything,” his mother said. “He focused on working out and staying healthy and would always say, ‘Once I get the opportunity…’”
But this summer it looked like Brandon’s best opportunity might be at another school.
Carroll jetted to Seattle, three five-star freshman receivers were inbound, he was buried on the new coaching staff’s depth chart after missing time in the spring with an injury and sanctions had taken away the possibility of a bowl game.
The sanctions also opened the door for juniors and seniors to transfer without having to forfeit a season.
Rumors swirled about the possibility of Brandon’s transfer as opposing coaches began recruiting him and the Carswell family. Cincinnati was hard on his trail and became a palpable option. Increased playing time and the Bearcats wide-open spread offense had a striking allure.
On July 20, former Trojan receiver Vidal Hazelton posted on Twitter that Brandon would be joining him at Cincinnati. The next day, Brandon added, “Leaving to Cincinnati on Tuesday... It's going to be new but fun I can't wait."
But then there were second thoughts. For the next week, Brandon’s collegiate fate hung in the balance.
Kiffin met with Brandon. The coach spoke with the Carswells and told them he was going to do anything he could to get Brandon to stay.
Almost every day, Bobby listened to his younger brother as he considered leaving.
“He had been working hard since he got [to USC],” Bobby said. “Sometimes you want to see results and he hadn’t seen those. He felt maybe he could go somewhere else and put his hard work to use.”
Bob and Jackie preferred Brandon stay at USC and finish his degree in social science psychology. He was only five classes from graduating. However, they left the decision in Brandon’s hands.
“It was a very difficult week for us,” Bob said. “Brandon had been approached by a number of schools offering him playing time and the chance to get the ball a lot – what every receiver wants. And Cincinnati’s throwing the ball all over the place.
“But as parents, we wanted to make sure we weren’t overstepping our bounds. We didn’t want to push him either way, but we wanted to make sure he had plenty of ammunition [to make his decision].”
A week after the pair of Cincinnati-bound tweets, it was confirmed that Kiffin’s recruitment of Brandon had been successful for the second time.
It was good to be wanted but at the end of the day Brandon decided the place he had initially wanted to be coming out of high school was the same place where he wanted to stay. He could work through whatever obstacles stood in the way, and he didn’t want to be a four-hour flight (rather than a five-hour drive) away from the Bay Area.
“I didn’t want to be that far away from my family,” Brandon said. “Plus, I’m about to graduate with an SC degree. There’s really nothing better for living in California.”
Though he stayed, Brandon was still deep on the depth chart and missed the majority of fall camp due to a hamstring injury. But he slowly began to catch the coaches’ eyes and earned himself playing time when he returned at full strength.
“He’s done things right. He’s been consistent,” Kiffin said. “When guys do things right and are consistent in the systems, they move themselves up.”
Brandon’s hard work has also been noticed by his teammates.
“Brandon just does everything the right way. That’s what you want,” senior receiver Ronald Johnson said. “He’s always been good at blocking and he keeps improving on the receiving side – catching the ball and then scoring like he did in the game.”
Brandon hopes this is the first of many touchdowns, but he knows he has to continue to improve each day.
“The coaches kind of trust me [now],” he said. “When I get my chance, I try to do whatever I can. And if my time comes, it will come.”
To reach reporter Shotgun Spratling, click here.
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