Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 3/7/12
There are a lot of things Tank Carder could be doing instead of preparing for the NFL Draft. He could be getting ready for the London Olympics as a BMX rider. He could be finishing up a career as a Division II player. He could be in a wheelchair. Carder could be doing all of those things if his life had taken a different turn at certain points. Instead, the former TCU linebacker is working out in preparation for TCU's pro day on March 9. He's already impressed scouts at the NFL Combine. Carder said he's seen a wide spectrum of draft projections, everything from being drafted in the third round to being an undrafted free agent. The only sure thing is that some NFL team will take a chance on an athlete who was a world champion at age 10 and whose athletic career was nearly ended at 13. After next month's draft, Carder will travel to Costa Rica in July to marry his fianc, Jessi Farris, whom he met as a freshman at TCU. Once in a while, Carder ponders how his life has taken twists and turns, any of which could have prevented him from being on the verge of an NFL career. "The way I see it, you just keep on taking it as it comes," Carder said. "It's been a journey, but everything I've done has gotten me to where I am today." The way his mother sees it, Carder has an angel watching over him. "It's almost like he does," Marti Carder said. "When he's faced with adversity, there's just something inside of him that makes him overpower it. He beats the odds every single time." Carder faced little adversity the first few years of his life. Not much can bother an 18-month-old who weighs 33 pounds. Named after his father, Rick, Carder turned his head the first time a family friend started called him Tank. He's been Tank ever since. At 26 months, he demanded his older brother take the training wheels off his bicycle. Carder soon was zooming down the block on just two wheels. That led to Carder getting started in BMX racing. Carder's natural strength and muscular build led him to excel in the sport, giving him an advantage over other riders as they pedaled over bumps and hills. "He was the only 5-year-old we knew that had a six pack," his mother said. "He was a little muscle-bound thing." At 10, Carder, from the small Texas town of Sweeny, had traveled to France and won the UCI (International Cycling Union) championship. He was No. 1 in the world. And just like that, he quit. "There really wasn't nothing else to win," Carder said. "I won that, and I won the national title six times." Actually, there was more to win. At 16 he could have turned pro. In all likelihood he would have competed for a spot in the Olympics BMX racing was introduced in the Beijing Olympics. Carder gave up BMX because he yearned to play traditional team sports like football and baseball. To hang out with his friends. To be a kid. All things that would have been difficult, if not impossible, as a member of a BMX racing team. Videos of a young Carder winning BMX races are still found on YouTube. Now 23, Carder still rides a bike occasionally, but it's a mountain bike. "I haven't been on a racing bike in 10 years," Carder said. "It's far gone now. I just ride wheelies in the backyard." There was a brief period at age 13 when Carder considered going back to BMX racing. About that time he was on his way to baseball practice when something broke in the car he was riding in, resulting in a terrible crash. Carder was thrown from the car and suffered extensive injuries. "He was broke up bad in that car wreck," his father, Rick, said. "I was real concerned about him even being able to live." Carder had to be taken by helicopter to a hospital in Houston to treat his injuries. There was no room for his parents on the flight. "Before they shut the door, the ambulance guy said, 'If you want to tell him bye, tell him now because he's in bad shape. I don't want to tell you a lie.'" When his parents reached the emergency room, there was no time to sign in. A hospital staffer grabbed them as soon as they walked in the door and took them to Carder's bedside. Carder's lungs were filling up with blood and doctors needed their permission to do a procedure to keep him from suffocating. "He was just about dead when we got there," Rick Carder remembers. "That blood shot out of there and he could breathe again." Carder spent 38 days in the hospital. His back was broken in two places. He had seven broken ribs and punctures to his lung and diaphragm. "I was about to get back into racing," Carder said. "It was kind of a message from God to stay away from it." His doctors had another sobering message. "They told me I would probably never play sports again," Carder said. At that point, Carder had yet to regain feeling in his legs. "For a while we thought he was going to wind up in a wheelchair," Marti said. His mother asked him what he would do if he couldn't walk. Carder's response: " I guess I'll do the Wheelchair Olympics." After about two weeks, Carder was able to walk again, although he was saddled with a back brace for the next few years. "There was that angel again," his mother said. "It took him about four years to get over that accident. He worked real, real hard." Carder was forbidden to participate in contact sports, but his father talked his high school coaches into letting him handle all the kicking for the football team. They agreed, with the stipulation that after every kick Carder was to grab the tee and run immediately to the sideline. "Sometimes I would run off to the sideline slow, thinking I might be able to make a tackle," Carder said. Carder was strictly a kicker as a freshman and sophomore. Then in one game the holder fumbled the snap. Carder looked nervously toward the sideline as the ball lay on the ground in front of him, then instinct took over. "I picked it up and ran it in for two points," Carder said. "My coach told me, "If you ever do that again I'm not going to let you kick no more!" His father, watching in the stands, had another idea. "After that I decided, you know what? It's time to go back to the doctors." It took a little convincing, but Rick Carder got the doctor to clear his son to play full-contact football. Carder made up for lost time by playing quarterback, fullback, linebacker and tight end for Sweeny over his final two seasons. "I was just out there having fun," Carder said. "I didn't even see it as potentially going to college or anything. I was just happy to play sports again." Only a two-star recruit, Carder was set on playing Division II football when he got a call from TCU coach Gary Patterson two weeks before signing day. "His highlight tape was about a 12-play tape, that's all, but he had great hips and he had great instincts," Patterson said. "The thing about Tank is he's always found a way to be successful." Carder accepted his only Division I offer and made the most of it. A three-year starter at both inside and outside linebacker, Carder was the two-time Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year and made a number of All-America teams. Carder will be remembered most at TCU for breaking up a two-point conversion pass in the final minutes of a 21-19 win over Wisconsin in the 2011 Rose Bowl. He was named the game's Defensive MVP. And in four years of playing at TCU, Carder never missed a game. He's had a couple of shoulder surgeries, but the kid whose body was broken in a car wreck never got injured playing football. "My legs have always been healthy," Carder said. I've always attributed that to my bike racing, building my muscles while I was young." His father has another theory. "I tell you what, if somebody don't believe there's someone looking over him, they don't believe in nothing," Rick Carder said. "He's always getting shined on, that's for sure." Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire
PLAYERS: Tank Carder
TEAMS: TCU Horned Frogs
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