One week earlier, Carmichael, 22, had realized his dream. He spotted an unfamiliar 832 area code and knew his future was calling.
“How would you feel about playing for the Houston Texans?” asked the voice on the other end of the line.
How does one answer that question? Carmichael had dreamed about the moment since his father first placed a football in his crib. A lifetime of working out three times a day. Five years at Virginia Tech. It all led to this. The Texans selected Carmichael, an undersize but lightning-quick cornerback, in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL draft on April 30. For Carmichael and his close-knit family, there were tears and hugs and much celebrating.
And then nothing.
“The coach said, ‘You’re on the team now, but we can’t talk to you until the lockout is over,’ ” Carmichael recalls. “ ‘So just be ready, be standing by the phone. When the lockout is over, you need to be on the next flight.’ ”
So that’s what he does now. He trains, and waits for the 832 area code to pop up again on his phone. He can still feel the faint vibrations from the draft-day excitement, but it’s dulled now by his new reality: He’s eager to take care of his family, and while he hasn’t played a single snap in the NFL, his new employer has locked him out.
‘If you want to be great’
A couple of days before last month’s draft, Carmichael was back at his family’s home in Waldorf. His mother, Mae, spotted him out front, sitting alone in silence on the back of his car.
“You okay?” she asked.
“Yeah, momma. I’m fine.”
But the setting wasn’t complete. His father, Bernard, had helped prepare him for this, and he should have been there, too.
Growing up in nearby Clinton, Carmichael was given the nickname “Roc” by his father, a retired Air Force master sergeant at Andrews Air Force Base. Carmichael was barely 5 years old when they began their training. Up at 7 a.m., and out the door. Every day.
“My dad would never make me do it,” Carmichael says. “He’d tell me and my brother, ‘You don’t have to be here. But if you want to be great, I’ll show you how.’ ”
The boys wore harnesses around their small waists and pulled a large tire attached to a rope. They sprinted up the hills in Cosca Regional Park. Their legs pumped as hard as they could, but a homemade parachute behind them kept the boys from going too fast.
Carmichael would work out in the morning. Then practice with his youth team in the afternoon. And then train again with his dad in the evening.
“I wasn’t playing video games, I wasn’t going out. I wasn’t doing this and that,” Carmichael says. “This is all I did.”
Bernard would record every game and study film with his son throughout the week. He’d fast-forward through a lot of the highlights, preferring to review the young player’s mistakes. Over and over.