The tattoo on Brandon Carr’s right forearm includes the Latin expression, ‘Carpe diem.’ That’s because Carr is trying to seize the day in his burgeoning NFL career. After four seasons in Kansas City, Carr received the largest free-agent contract for a cornerback during the offseason with a five-year, $50.1 million deal from the Dallas Cowboys.
Carr, 26, has proven worth the investment with his on-field performance and team leadership. As he prepares to play Sunday against visiting Tampa Bay (1 p.m. ET, FOX), Carr spoke with FOXSports.com about the Cowboys, his childhood growing up in Flint, Mich., his route to the NFL through a Division II college (Grand Valley State) and why his contract is worth exactly $100,000 more than the free-agent deal fellow cornerback Cortland Finnegan signed with St. Louis.
Q: What has it meant for you personally to join the Cowboys?
Carr: "It’s a dream come true. This is the team I grew up idolizing. Every time my cousin and I would go in the backyard and play, I had my Cowboys uniform on and it would be the Cowboys versus the (Detroit) Lions."
Q: How much has it meant for you to receive so much praise from teammates and media for your leadership qualities?
Carr: "I’m a big believer in God and believe everything happens for a reason. I always try to be upbeat and positive about everything. I have the opportunity to have a fresh start. I don’t do the most talking. I’d rather show guys by going out there and putting in the work. They’re following suit."
Q: How different is playing in Dallas than Kansas City?
Carr: "It’s a whole different ball game. No disrespect to Kansas City. It was a great four years. I had the time of my life. But the spotlight that’s on this team … Even when we’re traveling in Seattle (last Sunday), I’m looking around smiling and thinking, ‘Man, it’s like half-and-half (fan support) in here.’ I remember when the Cowboys came to Kansas City and it was half-and-half. Every time I turn around, there’s somebody talking about the Cowboys."
Q: How does someone as talented as you end up at a Division II program like Grand Valley State and how much does that give you an underdog mentality?
Carr: "I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world. That is who I am. I’ve always been the smallest guy on the (basketball) court. I was never the fastest. I wasn’t even voted the Most Likely to Succeed in high school. But I always looked at it like I was in my garage fine-tuning, shaping, carving and trying to become a finished product. Now, it’s time to take it out of the garage and show people all the hard work I’ve put in."
Q: What was it like growing up in Flint, Mich.?
Carr: "My mom was an elementary school teacher and my dad worked as a supervisor at Ford. He was also my basketball coach until I turned 16, 17 years old. That’s where the leadership stuff comes into play. He was grooming me for that. He told me a story that he would take me outside as a baby, sit me on the porch and talk to me. He would look at the stars and say, ‘One day, you’re going to be a star,’ to put it in my head. I do the same thing with my daughter — even though she doesn’t like to go outside like I used to [laughs].
"Back when I was growing up, Flint was buzzing. It was the basketball capital. I can remember countless times with a packed gym playing in the AAU league. I didn’t start playing football until the fourth grade. In seventh grade, I was a running back but I didn’t get into the games because I had fumbled the ball. Basketball was my love. I started playing at the age of five. I was destined to go to Michigan State [laughs].
"I was a ball boy, too. My brother was four years older than me so I was always around football learning. I didn’t start playing cornerback until the 11th grade. When he went to Western Michigan, that’s when the whole cornerback thing took off. I was following in his footsteps and he got a scholarship. I thought I’d have a better shot at a scholarship as a six-foot cornerback then a six-foot quarterback.
"I would go to Western practices. I would get there early for the games, watch them warm up just to see how they did different drills and footwork. I’d go home and get on my grind. There were countless times me and my friends would be running a big hill or working on our footwork while other kids would be going to party and other stuff. That was our ticket out of the city."
Q: And Western Michigan still didn’t recruit you?
Carr: "Central Michigan showed the most interest. When the coaching staff got fired, it all went away. Michigan never talked to me. Michigan State (barely) showed interest. Eastern (Michigan) never talked to me, which is fine because I didn’t want to go there. But Grand Valley came along to our team camp in high school. The coach told me if all other schools fall out, I’ll be here. Sure enough, everything else fell through and it was between Grand Valley and Wayne State. Wayne State wanted me to play wide receiver and Grand Valley wanted me to play corner. I had to go with the latter."
Q: Who were some of your NFL mentors when it comes to playing cornerback and life itself?
Carr: "[Ex-Chiefs guard] Brian Waters has always been a guy who has been there for me. Even when I got here, we went out to lunch. He would watch my daughter with his family. Pat Surtain was the guy who showed me the ropes at cornerback. It’s crazy because you hear all those stories about how the veteran guys don’t help with the rookies because you’re going for their spot. It was the complete opposite. [Ex-Chiefs head coach] Herm Edwards taught me how to be a pro. I didn’t understand it back then. But as time went along, especially now, it’s sinking in. The things he was saying are finally making sense to me now. And even [ex-Chiefs head coach] Todd Haley. He taught me the importance of practice. Just keep stacking good practices on top of each other and carry that into the game. Each day, try to get better. That’s what I tried to do. I think each year since I got there in 2009 until I left, my game got better and better. Each practice I try to work on something new and perfect my craft the best I can."
Q: What types of lessons are you trying to pass along to Cowboys rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne?
Carr: "I always will add my two cents on something as far as playing-wise or off the field if I feel like it’s needed to put a bug in his ear. He’s a grown man now. He’s going to make his own decisions. But there’s nothing to say he has to be alone and make them on his own. He can always come to not only me but any of the guys in the locker room if he has any questions. We should be able to figure it out because essentially we all go through the same things. We’re one big family. We lean on each other."
Q: What are your plans for life after football?
Carr: "I’ve been thinking about that the past couple of years. I haven’t really been doing too much as far as foundations and preparing myself physically, just getting things on paper and my iPad to get them lined up for the direction I want to go. I love being around children. A lot of my community work is around kids and my mom was a teacher. I wanted to be a pediatrician growing up. I even would consider teaching and coaching at a local high school.
"I know a lot of kids growing up where I’m from don’t have those father figures or male reinforcement in their household. Every time I go back, it’s a battle. I’m there for two hours talking, then when I leave they’re back to seeing the reality of things and not everything I was saying. I just try to get to one kid that’s going to listen. For the most part, I talk to the same kids I’ve been talking to every year. You can see the ones that get it and are trying to change and get better."
Q: Finally, was it important to get $100,000 extra more than St. Louis Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan with your contract?
Carr: "[Laughs] I don’t really get into those types of things. I let my agent handle all that. But did it send a statement? There you go."