With their sights shifting toward the future and an NFL paycheck, a number of NFL draft prospects have decided to forgo their teams’ bowl games.
Darren Carrington II isn’t one of them.
“I can’t sit out games, personally,” the University of Utah wide receiver said this week, tugging at his shoulder pads after an afternoon practice. “I hate that.”
The senior plans to play Dec. 26 when the Utes take on West Virginia in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. And he hopes to turn some heads doing it.
“I hope it’s one for the books, this last one,” Carrington said.
No matter what happens in the game, Carrington’s coaches feel confident saying the final chapter of his collegiate career has been a success.
“He’s been absolutely zero issues, and low maintenance,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “He’s been a guy that came in and did exactly what we hoped he was going to do.”
By the time Carrington was kicked off the Oregon football team last summer, he had racked up an impressive reputation on the football field, and a troubled one off it. He had failed a drug test that kept him sidelined for Oregon’s national championship game in 2015. An Oregon fan accused Carrington of assaulting him, and breaking his arm in October 2016. Then he was cited for driving under the influence of an intoxicant after he crashed into a pole in a McDonald’s drive-thru in July. The last offense prompted then-Oregon coach Willie Taggart to dismiss Carrington from the team.
“It just seemed like I’m just having something after something after something,” Carrington said.
The 6-foot-3 wide receiver considered declaring for the NFL draft. Then he and his father met with the coaching staff at Utah.
For Whittingham and the Utes, offering Carrington a roster spot was a business decision and, like all investments, it was speculative. Carrington could run the routes. But could he outrun his past?
“There is so much that goes into it,” Whittingham said in July. “It’s a judgment call. You’re not always right.”
Six months, 66 catches and 918 yards receiving later, Carrington’s coaches feel confident they were right about this one.
“I can’t say enough good things about how he’s conducted himself while he’s been in our program,” Whittingham said.
Carrington showcased his skills as a top option at Utah. Carrington was an All-Pac-12 second-team selection. His 918 yards are the 10th most for a Ute in a single season. If not for an injury, Whittingham believes his wideout could have caught “80 to 90 balls.”
That injury, by the way, doesn’t seem to be bothering Carrington nearly as much these days.
“I’m feeling pretty good actually,” he said. “My foot’s getting better. Just day by day. We’re going to keep getting better and and come out with a bang in this game.”
But perhaps even more importantly for Carrington, he seems to have taken advantage of the opportunity to rehabilitate his image.
“I feel like it did a lot for him,” quarterback Troy Williams said. “After everything that happened at Oregon, to be able to come here and show his character and stay clean while he was here, and to be able to produce on the field, he did everything the right way when he came here. I feel like it helped him a lot.”
Carrington plans to play in the Senior Bowl in January. But the wide receiver said he still is finalizing the rest of his plans for his NFL draft preparations. Some early draft projections have Carrington being picked somewhere between the third and fifth rounds in the April draft.
“Absolutely,” Utah offensive coordinator Troy Taylor said when asked if Carrington had improved his draft stock during his time at Utah. “I don’t think there’s any question. His consistency and everything he’s done both on and off the field — I think he has a bright future.”
Carrington called his college career a “fun journey” but also the “toughest journey of my life.”
“It was all just like a puzzle and it got put together,” Carrington said.
He added, “I feel like I’ve grown up over these college years like you’re supposed to. I’m ready for the next step.”