By Randy Lefko Sports Editon
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – College football may soon become a part of fall weekends in Clay County if former Clay High Blue Devil standout Nolan Carroll has his plan set in motion.
“When I retired, I took some time to evaluate my options; coaching at college, coaching in the NFL, and just doing stuff I never got a chance to do now that I had some free time,” said Carroll, 34, with a plethora of Clay County accolades including track county champion, a Super 11 football pick, All Area, All County football pick.
“The college idea kind of brings me back full circle to my roots. It was my brother Necho’s idea to bring college football back to our hometown.”
Carroll, who now has several business interests and his Nolan Carroll Foundation, brought together a host of NFL-level coaches and former players and created a junior college level football program called the Jacksonville Athletic Academy.
“We liked the junior college format knowing that a lot of kids don’t think highly of the junior college; when kids compare the University of Florida to junior college,” said Carroll. “We want to be a catalyst between junior college athletes and four year colleges and universities. We want to give kids that maybe didn’t get a big scholarship and second chance to show off their talents and maybe get a look. Sometimes, it’s a matter of timing to get the bigger colleges interested. We want our football to be competitive and exciting and bring those big college recruiters into the Clay County area.”
Carroll, who, as a lockdown defensive cornerback, retired from the National Football League in 2018 after a series of concussions forced his playing days to stop, will be returning to the Clay County, and his alma mater Clay High, with a brand new college football idea that could very well be a stepping stone for many area players.
“My last game was in 2017, it was a tackling drill in a warmup drill at Denver,” said Carroll, who was drafted out of the University of Maryland in 2010 by the Miami Dolphins and played for the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys in his tenure. “I got hit in the drill and felt light-headed and the trainers first thought it was the altitude adjustment of playing at Mile High Stadium.”
Carroll’s illustrious career, including his college days at the University of Maryland, has tested his will to play with a broken leg in his senior year, then a massive thigh contusion in the NFL due to a New York Jets coach sticking his knee in front of a sprinting Carroll who was on punt coverage, another broken leg in the NFL and, finally, the concussions.
In the infamous New York Jets “sideline trip” incident, in 2010, Carroll had been forced out of bounds on his punt coverage and was attempting to veer back on to the field when a New York Jets coach tripped him by putting his knee into Carroll’s thigh.
“The funny thing was that I watched it happen in almost slow motion,” said Carroll. “The Jets had made a line of guys real close to the sideline and I was going to cut it close; if not scrape them. It was very subtle and slow. I remember telling the trainers that someone tripped me. They ran it on the Jumbotron and our coaches were going crazy. Most people know that about me rather than any other stuff.”
Currently, the Mocassins, as the JAA will be called, have a tentative schedule with eight games; six afternoon kickoffs and two 7 p.m. starts with three home games to be played at Clay High. Carroll said his players will be going to classes at Florida State College in Jacksonville and, if needed, will get housing in area facilities; Cobblestone, Lighthouse and various AirBNBs.
“We are providing athletic tools while they attend school,” said Carroll. “We want our program to be a one-stop shop where they can experience the college life, play football, get tutoring and academic help, just like a regular junior college program. If they move on to a college or university, we’ve done our job on all ends; academics and athletics. It took us almost a year to have those peripheral things in place before even starting the football idea.”
Carroll recalled his first days at Maryland and the experience of being by himself so far from home. “I got homesick at Maryland and I think it was because most kids like me did not have a coach to relate to or talk to when things got stressful,” said Carroll. “I almost transferred, but I’m not a quitter and stuck it out and made the best of it. Our coaching staff has been to the highest level of competition and we will be with them step by step.”
Back to the Jacksonville Athletic Academy, Carroll also noted that the COVID season for most college programs allowed athletes to return for a missed season or even two seasons that curtailed a lot of scholarships for incoming athletes.
“A lot of kids lost scholarships because of COVID,” said Carroll. “Colleges have been returning seniors who lost their season due to the Pandemic and that has taken scholarships away from incoming athletes. That left a lot of kids wondering where to go next and there are so many influences these days that can get a good kid to make a bad decision. We want to give all of our kids the tools to be ready for that big time program the second time when things settle down because they are going to be in a program that keeps them thinking ahead to that future, maybe in football, maybe just in life, but we don’t want kids to get lost.”
Carroll thoughts evolved around the reality of an NFL career. “Only about one percent of guys get the to the NFL,” said Carroll. “I made it, played, excelled and know what it takes. We want our players to leave here with a goal beyond football. What can they do if football is not a part of their future? That’s our mission.”
2010: Drafted fifth round 2010 NFL Draft Miami Dolphins; played four years started 20 games with three interceptions, one forced fumble, two QB sacks, ranked sixth best defensive back in 2011 with an amazing one missed tackled.
2014: Free agent signed to Philadelphia; Highlight game was a shutdown night against Odell Beckham, Jr., of the New York Giants with an interception touchdown against Super Bowl QB Eli Manning.
2015: Broken Leg, in 11th game with NFL second best 57 tackles, 10 passes defended and two interceptions; one for a score.
2016: Established the Nolan Carroll Foundation to support educational opportunities and promote a healthy lifestyle for today’s disadvantaged youths. The foundation is active in many communities throughout the country providing STEM educational opportunities, adopt-a-school support and challenge reading programs to help improve academic achievements among at-risk kids.
2017: Last game
2018: Retired from NFL due to Concussions.