Austyn Carta-Samuels picked up the phone, heard the words he’d been longing to hear and started crying.
A highly successful quarterback in two years at the University of Wyoming, Carta-Samuels had decided to transfer. The former Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year narrowed his decision to three schools — Arizona, Colorado and Vanderbilt.
When he received the news that he had been accepted to Vanderbilt, Carta-Samuels broke down. It wasn’t about football. Carta-Samuels wept because he knew the daunting task of cramming 22 credit hours in six months to finish his associate degree at a community college had paid off.
He was going to a prestigious institution — the same school his grandfather attended and spoke so fondly of. When Carta-Samuels arrived on campus in the fall of 2011, he arrived without a football scholarship. That came six months later.
“I think something that is great about Vanderbilt that I would love more people to understand is you don’t get gifts here as a football player,” said Carta-Samuels, a psychology major. “Me playing football and me having started 24 games and being a captain in another conference it didn’t matter to this school. They didn’t care. That was exciting for me because I did this all on my own. I got here with no football help and got accepted academically.”
Nearly two years later, after accepting him for his academic prowess, Vanderbilt is looking to tap into Carta-Samuels’ potential on the gridiron. The fifth-year senior from San Jose heads into next weekend’s Black & Gold Spring Game as the heavy favorite to be the next starting quarterback.
“He has done it before,” coach James Franklin said. “And experience counts – especially at that position.”
His transition back to full-time starter could be easier thanks to his predecessor.
Carta-Samuels had a front row seat to watch Jordan Rodgers transition from junior college to the Southeastern Conference. Rodgers endured an up-and-down 2011 season before he guided the Commodores to their best season since 1915.
Carta-Samuels watched as Rodgers dug into the playbook of the pro-style offense, spent extra hours studying film, picked the coaches’ brains and improved his NFL chances.
“I really saw that transition was because of what he did off the field,” Carta-Samuels said. “So learning from him, in about week eight last year I started doing what he did and I think the light really came on for me about week 11. At the start of spring ball, I’m about where I want to be.”
His teammates have witnessed the growth. From preparing teammates for practice to sitting down with Franklin, offensive line coach Herb Hand and quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne on a regular basis, a strong work ethic shines through.
“He is a natural leader,” wide receiver Jordan Matthews said. “He is very focused and I think that is one of his best traits.”
Also similar to Rodgers, Carta-Samuels is out to debunk questions about his size.
Both quarterbacks are listed at 6-foot-1. Not afforded the extra two inches his younger brother Kyle, also a quarterback and a 2014 Vanderbilt commit, received, Austyn sought help.
“I’ve always put orthotics in my shoes and I tried to make myself half an inch taller,” he said with a smile. “It is always something I’ve been insecure about just because I feel from a talent perspective and mentally I can compete with any quarterback in the country. For schools to judge you based on the fact I’m 6-foot and not 6-2 or 6-3 is tough because we’re talking about that much.”
He certainly proved he could stack up in the Mountain West.
In his third game at Wyoming, he took over the starting job. He guided the Cowboys to five fourth-quarter comeback wins in 2009 and was named the offensive MVP of the New Mexico Bowl. He threw for more than 3,600 yards and 19 touchdowns in two years and displayed arm strength that is now impressing Vanderbilt coaches and teammates.
A month after the 2010 season ended, his quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo left for the same job at California-Berkley. Arroyo, now at Southern Miss, had been the quarterbacks coach at San Jose State, where Carta-Samuels committed out of high school.
Now with the coach who drew him to Wyoming gone, Carta-Samuels decided to leave too.
“Really I hope nobody can fault me for where I am now — at one of the top schools in America with one of the best football opportunities in the country,” he said. “I had a lot of fun there with a bunch of great people in Wyoming and a good coaching staff. I just decided there was going to be somewhere else better suited for me academically and football wise.”
Carta-Samuels received some direction when it came to looking for a new school.
His grandfather, Tom Samuels, played center field for Vanderbilt. He often reminisced about hitting home runs onto the roof of Memorial Gymnasium. But what Carta-Samuels remembers most was his grandpa, now a doctor, talking about how Vanderbilt changed his life.
His grandson was determined to share in that experience.
“All my dreams have been accomplished and I still have more to go,” he said. “But I’m right where I want to be. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. This is special for me.”