Of everything there is to know about Bryan Carrington, two things stand out to get this all started.
First of all, a simple tweet — one without any words or even any characters — can send waves of excitement through the Texas Longhorns fan base:
— Bryan Carrington (@BCarringtonUT) August 4, 2018
It’s not just an emoji, though — it’s a movement, as the Longhorns Director of Recruiting says about his public announcement of a silent commitment on the recruiting trail.
The other thing to know? This man is living his dream.
Well, maybe there’s a third thing, too.
It wasn’t ever easy.
In the hectic days after former Houston head coach Tom Herman took over for Charlie Strong in Austin in late November of 2016, the new Longhorns leader only needed a little more than a week to bring Carrington with him as his new Assistant Director of Player Personnel.
“The opportunity to recruit at a University that I’ve dreamed about since my childhood is an opportunity that I cannot pass up,” Carrington wrote in a statement. “This truly is a dream come true.”
At the time, the hire was noteworthy mostly because it was a sign that Herman was intent on building a real personnel department after fits and starts under the two previous head coaches. Beyond the Houston football program, and those who followed it extremely closely, there still weren’t any compelling reasons for Texas fans to know Carrington’s name.
“I seriously doubt Bryan Carrington is that pivotal to the Houston program,” wrote Reddit user 36yearsofporn. “There’s nothing to get excited about this hire from a Texas perspective other than he’s Tom Herman’s guy.”
From outside of the Texas program looking in, there was no way to know just how wrong that statement would become in a little more than a year’s time.
Following what were largely behind-the-scenes efforts in the 2017 class and for most of the 2018 cycle, what truly launched Carrington into the burnt orange spotlight was his work in the final months of #RevolUTion18.
In early January, NCAA rule changes allowed the addition of a 10th assistant coach. And that gave Texas Director of Player Personnel Derek Chang an idea.
Instead of only having nine assistants on the road while the new hire went through background checks and all the other approval needed to hire a new assistant coach at a public university, Chang decided to send Carrington on the road as the interim 10th assistant coach.
Five days later, with the Horns desperate to add defensive linemen before National Signing Day, Carrington was put to the test with an in-home visit to see key defensive end target Daniel Carson in Missouri.
Having already built a relationship with Carson throughout the recruiting process, Carrington’s presence on the road was particularly helpful for defensive line coach Oscar Giles. Known as one of the best pure coaches on the team, Giles is not known as an elite recruiter, putting some pressure on Carrington to prove himself as the charismatic force tasked with securing Carson’s pledge.
Two days later, Carson made it official and committed to the Longhorns. In the tweet announcing the decision, he mentioned Carrington’s Twitter account before he mentioned Herman’s Twitter account.
“To get him out on the road, I thought was really good, too,” Herman said. “I mean, he made a difference.”
When another key defensive recruit, four-star B-backer Joseph Ossai, announced his pledge to the Horns on National Signing Day, he sent a shoutout to Carrington in his commitment video.
As Carrington’s impact became apparent publicly, he took his social media presence to another level, dropping that now-iconic emoji every time a recruit gave the Longhorns a silent commitment. With a quickness, Carrington became the public face of successful recruiting efforts behind the scenes, tantalizing the fan base with every new submission.
So, by the time that the Longhorns signed the elite recruiting class promised by Herman a year before, Carrington was no longer someone working tirelessly and relatively anonymously in the football facilities and on social media — he was a rising star in the college football world.
“Bryan does a fantastic job of connecting with players,” Herman said on National Signing Day. “He’s young. He shares similar backgrounds to a lot of them. Grew up in Houston. He is passionate about the University of Texas. I think where Bryan comes into play is because of that connection. I think it adds a lot of validity to the things that we’re saying to the full-time recruiters.”
With recruits, Carrington provides a back up to the presentations by the coaching staff, forged by his ability to relate to recruits who trust him and connect with him.
“It’s just an added piece,” Herman added. “He’s the best in the country.”
With Carrington’s impact on the nation’s No. 3 recruiting class established, Herman expressed his hope that Carrington would stick around “for a long, long time.”
Not long after Herman made that statement, LSU began an “active pursuit” of Carrington, a source close to the situation in Tiger Country told Orangebloods, testing Herman’s conviction to keep Carrington at Texas.
A week later, Carrington announced that he was staying in Austin with a new title — Director of Recruiting. As much as coming to the Forty Acres represented Carrington achieving his dreams, his promotion to the role that he’d always wanted — and his ascension to widespread recognition as an elite recruiter — was the culmination of an equally ambitious dream.
Once paid less than $37,000 in his previous role, Carrington likely received a significant raise with his promotion to allow him to fulfill another longtime dream, shared with his twin brother Ryan, of taking care of their single mother.
The remarkable success achieved by Carrington in such a short period of time on a big-time stage stands in stark contrast to his humble beginnings.
“Bryan does a great job relating to young kids, obviously because of his age — he’s from Texas and from Houston — but he also does a very good job of developing, not just between the player and him, but the recruits and other recruits,” Herman said at Big 12 Media Days. “He gets the parents and recruits together, he forms these bonds that allow these guys to have a sense of pride.”
Though Carrington’s expressed career goal is to become the top recruiter in college football, his background also provides him with the perspective to understand that his pitch to recruits is really about a life beyond football.
“I have a real passion for recruiting,” Carrington said in an interview with Chip Baker. “Mostly, in college football, you’re talking about a majority of African-American kids, so if I can touch them and get them to realize that football isn’t who they are, but it’s their platform — and get them to come to a university that’s going to benefit them after the ball goes flat — that became my new goal. That became my new passion.”
“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” – Harry S. Truman
When Carrington arrived in Austin, he wrote that quote from the former United States president on the dry erase board in his office and read it every day to help keep himself grateful for how far he’d come.
Truman’s wisdom also served as a backdrop to Carrington’s understanding of the insight that he tries to provide to recruits about their futures.
“Often I tell the kids I recruit that committing to a university to continue your education and play football is not a four-year decision,” Carrington told St. Pius X. “It is a lifetime decision, a generational decision and I’m privileged to be at the best institution in the entire country. What we have to offer to prospective student-athletes is the opportunity of a lifetime — to play football at a prestigious program rich in history and access to an international network that can help you in life well after you hang up the pads.”
After all, Carrington’s dreams took a detour when he had to hang up the pads and find another path to lead him away from his old neighborhood.
Carrington hails from Acres Homes, a northwest Houston neighborhood established after World War I that at one time featured the largest unincorporated African-American community in the southeastern United States. When it was annexed by the city of Houston in 1967, it was described as a slum without adequate transportation or education. As with much urban and suburban blight, not much has changed besides the encroachment of gentrification.
According to the 2000 census, Acres Homes was 86 percent African American and 10 percent Hispanic at that time. But the neighborhood’s consistent poverty never diminished the strength of its culture — current Houston mayor Sylvester Turner grew up in Acres Homes, and rappers Camillionaire, Paul Wall, Riff Raff, and Slim Thug also called it home. In 2016, the late Anthony Bourdain filmed an episode for Parts Unknown at the legendary neighborhood ribs joint, Burns BBQ, the second time Bourdain filmed a television segment there.
Carrington’s formal education largely happened outside of his neighborhood, though — as he put it, his mom wanted him “to see the other side of life.” And that was even from the earliest stages of his education, when he caught a bus at 5 a.m. every morning to head 10 miles south to a different world at River Oaks Elementary, a magnet school once attended by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The neighborhood itself, also named River Oaks, is one of the wealthiest in the entire country, with real-estate values reaching to over $20 million.
The long days as the first kid picked up and the last kid dropped off took Carrington outside of his comfort zone. Many of the residents of Acres Homes never got that opportunity, growing up in Acres Homes and dying in Acres Homes, never knowing anything outside of it. “Victims of circumstance,” says Carrington.
The message from Carrington’s mother to her son, the most outgoing child among his peers and a gifted communicator from an early age, he says, was to spend more time listening. Certainly, the experience of being one of only five African-Americans at River Oaks caused Carrington to transform from the vocal leader in his neighborhood to a child in a shell.
Yet, as difficult as it was to adjust to life in the minority, Carrington’s return to Acres Homes wasn’t easy, either.
Looking back on his experiences going to middle school in his neighborhood at Klein Intermediate, Carrington describes himself as a “knucklehead” with something to prove to the peers from whom he’d been separated while attending River Oaks Elementary.
Despite the growing pains and lessons that resulted from his time back in Acres Homes, Carrington took a chance by writing a letter pitching his efforts to attend high school at St. Pius X High School, just down the road from Acres Homes. The relative proximity of Acres Homes to St. Pius X in the Greater Houston area disguised a distinct reality — the private Catholic high school represented another educational institution featuring a majority of its students who were far removed in socioeconomic status.
The current cost of attendance at St. Pius X? Nearly $16,000 per year.
The dream was to play football at the University of Texas and Carrington believed that playing at St. Pius X was his best chance of accomplishing that dream. After passing the entrance exam, Carrington had to overcome a more significant hurdle — the cost of attendance, which his single mother could not afford.
Aided by his previous stint as a ball boy for St. Pius X varsity football games and by the letter he wrote laying out his dreams, Carrington was selected from a large pool of students to receive a benefactor who would pay for his high school education after an interview with their entire family. During the interview, the family questioned Carrington on current politicians in Houston, from the mayor to councilmen.
And it was then that Carrington revealed that he wasn’t just an average kid from the 44 — his grandmother, Buelah Shepard, was known as the unofficial mayor of Acres Homes. The local library and chamber for business and economic development both carry her name.
In addition to working for a local commissioner and a Texas senator, Shepard also put her efforts into several prominent Democratic campaigns, including those of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Jimmy Carter, among others.
No small accomplishment for an African-American woman who liked to note that she came from Plain Dealing, a small town in Louisiana 30 miles north of Shreveport, with only a seventh-grade education.
Shepard helped expose her young grandson to political banquets and lunches, even helping him get an interview with the future mayor, Sylvester Turner, when he was a child. In fact, it was Shepard who helped Turner and U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee break into politics due to the connections she forged in Acres Homes and across the wider Houston community.
“If she thought it, she said it. She was direct,” Turner once said. “That was Beulah Shepard. You didn’t have to guess what she was thinking. She loved politics, she loved the process and she loved participating in the process. If you sought political office, you sought her out. She had the power.”
Shepard’s influence in Acres Homes didn’t create much wider privilege for her daughter, Diane Shepard, and her four children, but Carrington’s political awareness and personal charisma, passed down to him from his grandmother, helped ensure that he received the financial support necessary to put his dreams in motion.
The ability to attend St. Pius X placed Carrington in a familiar position catching multiple buses to school, even as his classmates rolled up in their BMWs and other luxury cars. The trust funds his classmates stood to inherit upon graduation existed in stark contrast to Carrington’s own upbringing, which at times included the power or telephone being cut off.
Those experiences “made me zealous and a go-getter from an early age,” Carrington said.
While Carrington navigated his return to Acres Homes In middle school and then his subsequent transition at St. Pius X, his interest in football and recruiting calcified.
“I can remember walking through the hallways of SPX with the sports section of the Houston Chronicle in my back pocket following up with daily sports news, especially news surrounding the University of Texas football program,” Carrington said in a 2017 interview with his high school alma mater. “When Texas won the national championship, I went to Academy the next morning before school, got a championship t-shirt and even wore it under my SPX uniform.”
Several years earlier, Carrington’s interest in the Houston Top 100, a list of the best high school football recruits from the Bayou City, had served as his introduction to his future career even at a time when earning a scholarship in the sport represented his best chance of a way out of the circumstances in which he was raised.
A football scholarship at Texas wasn’t in the offing as Carrington’s playing career ended and he headed to the University of Houston as a student. The experience was a culture shock for Carrington as he moved into the dorms and then into his own apartments — what he describes as his first taste of freedom. Despite the advanced college prep that Carrington received at St. Pius X, he started to prioritize his life as a student over his academic life, leading to academic probation and then academic suspension for one year.
A chance encounter with then-Cougars head coach Kevin Sumlin as a bartender at Pappas Seafood House when Carrington was still enrolled at Houston nearly led him in a different direction — at the end of Sumlin’s meal, Carrington asked him how he could break into the world of college football. Sumlin told him to come down to the football facilities and volunteer, but Carrington never followed through.
After spending that year on academic suspension away from Houston working at Pappas as a bartender, Carrington enrolled at Houston Community College, eventually receiving an Associates of the Arts degree from that institution before returning to Houston in the spring of 2015.
Bartending at Pappas and then Olive Garden enabled Carrington to achieve a measure of financial stability that eventually proved crucial to his next step as a volunteer when Carrington’s return to Houston coincided with the arrival of Tom Herman as the Cougars head football coach.
Since the St. Pius X football dream hadn’t resulted in a scholarship to the University of Texas and his initial college plan of going into broadcast journalism as a color commentator had taken a detour, Carrington turned his attention towards sports administration upon his return.
When a professor impressed upon him the importance of getting a foothold in that industry, Carrington sent out another important correspondence that would shape his future — an email to members of the Houston recruiting and video departments in an effort to pitch his services as an unpaid football recruiting assistant.
Several days later, Carrington got a call from Houston’s Director of Recruiting, Adrian Mayes, who wanted to set up a meeting. When they met the next day, Mayes stressed the importance of absolute commitment to the role. In that spirit, and even as he took an extremely heavy course load, Carrington wasn’t sure if anyone around the facility knew his name in his early days — he was satisfied with just putting in the work.
“I don’t need anybody to believe in me, because I believe in me,” Carrington said of his mindset during that time.
As the new staff acclimated to the new environment, Carrington was able to step forward as an expert on how things operated at Houston, having gained that institutional knowledge during his two stints as a Cougar.
“So when you bring a recruit up to the school, who better to show them around than me? I started to slowly put more stuff on my plate,” he said. “Not only that, but show my peers and the colleagues I worked with that I’m coming with it.”
When recruits starting to come around the facilities asking for him specifically, Carrington realized that he was accomplishing something significant. Meanwhile, he built his brand on social media, selling his own personality and providing recruits perspective on why they should become a Cougar.
Building that brand helped Carrington earn the online recognition of Herman with retweets on Twitter, then in-person recognition from Herman and other members of the coaching staff.
An understanding of recent college football history showed Carrington that careers get made at Houston, from now-disgraced Art Briles to Kliff Kingsbury to Dana Holgorsen to Sumlin, the coach he had once asked for advice at Pappas Seafood House.
“All I’ve got to do is find one person to mess with me, for them to get a job and bring me with them,” Carrington said. “So that was my short-term goal. By the time I graduate, I want someone to take me with them. Wherever.”
Carrington graduated and that person turned out to be Tom Herman. Wherever ended up being the University of Texas.
Now Bryan Carrington’s made it. And it’s more than just a title, it’s a movement. An unfinished movement.
Join the movement and help out a good cause by purchasing the new Shhh t-shirt from Breaking T. A portion of all sales will benefit Shepard-Acres Homes Neighborhood Library.