The legend of Jon Carman has outgrown the "gentle giant's" 6-foot 7-inch, 350-pound body frame. Any coach or neighborhood kid from back in Carman's day remembers his own story about the giant with the big hands whose mother, Betty, said he drank two gallons of milk a day. The legend of Carman's car — a small coupe that he disfigured with a chain-saw turning it into a make-shift convertible so that his head could fit comfortably — is a story that anyone who knows him still loves to tell. Carman, now a social worker at a juvenile detention center in New Jersey, laughs when he remembers the Buick he "made into a convertible."
"I had a Buick Skyhawk four-door. 'Mr. Z,' the shop teacher at Herndon, gave it to me...The seat didn't recline, so I didn't fit in the car. I took a saw to the roof and made it a convertible."
That kind of determination or ability to make the best of any situation eventually catapulted Carman to collegiate football success and into the National Football League.
"You just knew he was destined just because of his size," said Herndon football coach Tommy Meier, who remembers stopping dead in his tracks when he saw Carman, a freshman at the time, practicing with the band in the school's parking lot next to the football field. Carman, who weighed in at an astonishing 330 pounds in his freshman year of football, never knew that that meeting in Herndon's parking lot would have such an impact on his life.
NOT ABLE TO play his true love — the piano — for the marching band, Carman was fiddling with the trumpet when Meier came up to him. "I approached him in the parking lot and said 'hey, how about playing football?" remembered Meier, who was taken with Carman's size and saw the potential. "The next day he showed up [to practice]."
At that moment, chances of playing in the National Football League weren't even a consideration for Carman, who was more interested in playing music than sports.
But there was a reason that Carman, shy, quiet and a bit introverted, had — until that meeting in Herndon's parking lot — steered away from sports and became a master on the piano. "He was always 100 pounds over the average child," said his mother Betty. "They would not let him play intramural sports growing up. They thought he would injure another child."
Carman, who weighed 11 pounds and was 26.5 inches long at birth, was eventually allowed to play soccer, but was put in at goalie so as to keep him away from the other children.
"It was hard and sad because it was hard to fit him in," said Betty, who added that even though he was larger than life, "little children loved him. They called him 'little giant.' He was so sweet and very gentle."
While suffering through his parents' divorce, Carman now admits that he lacked a motivation for school and simply stopped going to classes. He admits that he fell in with a tough crowd. His grades slipped and he didn't graduate with his class at Herndon. He finished his schooling with summer school and went to two community colleges before finding his way to Georgia Tech.
THE OFFENSIVE tackle, whose Scottish and German lineage are what his mother credits for size, had yet to find the killer instinct that eventually led him to an NFL career and collegiate stardom.
"My father always told me, in a positive way, not to be a bully," said Carman, who credits Meier with helping him not only to become a bully on the football field, but a better person off of the field. Both Carman and Meier admitted that the 'gentle giant' was just an average high school athlete.
"He was a late-bloomer," said Meier, who had trouble just fitting Carman into a high school uniform. No high school equipment catalog had a size big enough to fit Herndon's oversized offensive tackle, so Meier contacted the Washington Redskins, who put him into contact with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons — a team that shared Herndon's silver colored pants. "They shipped them over night," said Meier of the single pair of game pants that Carman wore during his three years of varsity football. Carman and the Hornets posted a 22-8 record in his three years, with their most successful run in his senior year when Herndon posted a 8-2 record and lost in the regional tournament to eventual AAA state champion Annandale. He was a second team all-district selection that season.
"One time, his senior year, we played Langley," said Meier. "Every play, all the [defense] did was dive at his ankles. That got to be kind of popular...knocking down the tree as it gets started." Teams were learning how to deal with Carman, but Meier and most fans knew that big things lay ahead for the big man.
"I MOVED OUT of the area and got away from some bad elements that were there," said Carman, who went to Charles County Community College (Md.), a school that did not have a football team. He then played one season at Nassau Community College in Garden City, N.Y. — where he helped the football team to an 11-0 record and No. 2 national ranking in 1996. His life, truly inspired by football, was growing in a more positive direction. According to Carman, who barely graduated high school, he made the school's Dean's list in his first semester at Nassau with a 4.0 grade point average. After one season at Nassau, Carman started at Georgia Tech in 1997.
"At Georgia Tech, they made him lose 30 or 40 pounds and then they built him all back up," said Meier. Carman starred in three bowl games and was the biggest player ever to put on a Yellow Jacket uniform. As the starting right tackle in 1998, Carman was honored as the ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week for the final two regular season games as he helped Tech rush for a combined 560 yards in wins over Wake Forest and Georgia. He was an All-American in 1999 and first team All-ACC selection helping Tech lead the nation in total offense and to a No. 13 ranking in rushing. Sporting News ranked him the eighth-best offensive tackle in the nation that year.
CARMAN PLAYED IN three bowl games with Georgia Tech before going undrafted in the 2000 NFL Draft. In 2000, Carman became one of only 15 players and the only offensive tackle (since 1997) to make the 53-man roster as an undrafted rookie. He was out of the league two years later after suffering an injury to his foot.
"It's tough to explain to people how difficult [the NFL] is," said Carman. "I hate it when people say 'These guys are overpaid.' If it's so easy then why don't you do it? It's a discipline." Carman now lives in New Jersey with his wife Candice and their two daughters. He is a social worker at the Ocean County Juvenile Detention Center. He often uses his story to motivate troubled youth.
Jon Carman is 75 in a survey of the area's Top 100 Athletes by Connection Newspapers in 2000.