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From walk-on to 90-catch campaign: Undrafted Patriots wideout Austin Carr

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Northwestern’s 2016 season was one prolific surge for redshirt senior Austin Carr.

Northwestern v Ohio State Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Austin Carr tallied 2,325 yards of offense and 30 touchdowns during his senior year at Benicia High School. But the Division-I offers eluded him. And as he walked onto the Northwestern football team in 2012, the numbers did not follow him.

Not for four years, at least.

The rusher-slash-receiver from the San Francisco Bay Area redshirted as a freshman in Evanston, Ill. He didn’t see the field in 2013, either. Although as his third year in the program arrived, so did an opportunity.

Carr entered for all 12 games and caught the first seven passes of his Big Ten career for an even 100 yards in 2014. By 2015, he found himself one of three former walk-ons to claim a football scholarship under head coach Pat Fitzgerald, and proceeded to claim 16 receptions for 302 yards and the first two collegiate touchdowns of his career.

But it would have been hard to foresee the 6-foot-1, 195-pound slot receiver following that up like he did as a fifth-year senior in 2016.

Carr’s numbers did more than double – some set records.

The 23-year-old amassed 90 receptions for 1,247 yards and 12 touchdowns over 13 contests last fall, accounting for 84 percent of his career receptions, 78 percent of his career receiving yards, and 85 percent of his career receiving touchdowns to close out his final campaign at Northwestern.

“Year-in and year-out, I wasn’t doing it year-in and year-out,” Carr told reporters Tuesday at Gillette Stadium, via Patriots.com. “I was in the stable for two to three years, so it took me five years to do that.”

He led the Big Ten in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, becoming the third player in the last 26 years to do so. He set the Northwestern single-season record in receiving yards, matched the single-season high in touchdown receptions, and tied for second in school history for receptions in a season.

“That just is a testament to Big Ten football and the competition that you face every week,” said Carr. “Especially as a walk-on as I was, you kind of have a little bit more of an uphill battle to earn your spot.”

Carr’s six consecutive games with a touchdown catch also hit the Northwestern record books. He caught three in one against Iowa before catching two more versus Michigan State a game later, becoming the first Wildcats target since former New England Patriots seventh-round pick Jeremy Ebert to register multiple touchdown grabs in back-to-back games.

2016 GAME LOG

  • Sept. 3 – Western Michigan: Five catches, 75 yards
  • Sept. 10 – Illinois State: Seven catches, 73 yards, one touchdown
  • Sept. 17 – Duke: Six catches, 135 yards, one touchdown
  • Sept. 24 – Nebraska: Eight catches, 109 yards, one touchdown
  • Oct. 1 – Iowa: Six catches, 73 yards, three touchdowns
  • Oct. 15 – Michigan State: 11 catches, 130 yards, two touchdowns
  • Oct. 22 – Indiana: Seven catches, 125 yards, one touchdown
  • Oct. 29 – Ohio State: Eight catches, 158 yards
  • Nov. 5 – Wisconsin: 12 catches, 132 yards, one touchdown
  • Nov. 12 – Purdue: Five catches, 92 yards, two touchdowns
  • Nov. 19 – Minnesota: Five catches, 68 yards
  • Nov. 26 – Illinois: Four catches, 26 yards
  • Dec. 28 – Pittsburgh: Six catches, 51 yards

It was a late surge. It was as steady as it was prolific.

Over the course of the 13-game slate, Carr caught no fewer than four passes in a game and as many as a dozen. He averaged 96 receiving yards per appearance, eclipsed the century mark six times, and achieved his career-high 158 against an Ohio State secondary featuring three future first-round picks in Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker and Gareon Conley.

A first-rounder Carr would not be.

The three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree finished his Northwestern tenure as a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection and as the Richter-Howard Big Ten Receiver of the Year. He finished as a finalist for Biletnikoff Award and as an invite to the East-West Shrine Game. But while a bachelor’s in philosophy and a master’s in management studies are now in hand for Carr, his 90-catch year and the accolades that came with it are in the rearview.

As is the 2017 NFL draft in which he did not hear his name called.

“I couldn’t sulk. I couldn’t cry,” Carr said. “It’s kind of been the story of my life, or my career. Getting to Northwestern but walking on, not getting any Division-I offers, going undrafted – it’s kind of like if you were writing my story, you would write it this way. So, it’s OK.”

After weighing options with five teams, Carr chose Foxborough. His signing was made official on May 5.

Now he is one of 20 undrafted rookies residing with the Patriots. He is one 11 wide receivers on the roster alongside Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Matthew Slater, Devin Lucien, DeAndrew White, Cody Hollister and recent veteran addition Andrew Hawkins.

More than half of the list is well-entrenched. Four members of it caught passes from Tom Brady last season.

Carr caught his first when organized team activities began on Monday.

“Seeing how competitive they are, and how good that room is – I don’t see this as a sixth-month kind of journey,” Carr said. “I see it as I hope I have a lengthy NFL career. What better [place] to have my first year to learn from some of the best. I’m going to model my game after those guys obviously, and when my spot opens, hopefully it’s here and hopefully I take advantage of it.”