While Rock’s family remains in Clinton, Md., they remain the inspiration that helps him carry the load.
“When I do squats, I think I see my baby brother,” Carmichael says.
On the walls of the weight room, Carmichael notes, his 40-yard dash time displays alongside those of Eddie Royal, Michael and Marcus Vick, and he is listed with DeAngelo Hall in the Hokies’ top-five all-time rankings — after posting a 4.26-second mark last spring.
Now is the time Carmichael, the fastest player on the team, can chase mentors Harris and Flowers. Torrian Gray has presided as defensive backfield coach over this trio at Tech, and he thinks the current boundary corner has covered vast ground since arriving as a freshman.
“He didn’t have instincts like those guys. He still has a ways to go in some respects to be like those guys, but because of his work ethic and demeanor, I think he’s going to give himself a chance,” Gray mused. “He’s definitely a pro prospect. But as far as comparing him with those guys, he’s not quite in their class — but he has a chance to get there if he continues to improve at the rate he’s improving and understanding the game.”
Even though spring practice provides a heavy focus on who’s grabbing a bus seat for the traveling squad, it’s still a good indicator for what’s to come later in the offseason for the starters, and for whom it’s all finally coming together.
“Last spring, Rock was missing sometimes at practice because of class,” Gray said, “And he would still come out to the scrimmages on Saturdays and perform at a level as, like ... mentally, he’s going through the stuff.
“So a guy with his speed and natural ability, once the mental part of it clicks for him, he was able to just play fast. ... He’s discovered he can be a playmaker. He discovered he can run across the field and tackle a guy from one side to the other.”
Professional dreams have a difficult time finding room on Carmichael’s plate quite yet, he said. It already features helpings of a 35-hour per week internship at the Head Start Program in Christiansburg, 6:30 a.m. team meetings and practices six out of every seven days during spring ball. Then there’s class.
Though, looking at the horizon, it seems that life as a potential NFL star should dwarf any temptations that could derail an offseason. But it does happen.
Hokie fans all wincingly remember the reports about the physical shape in which tailback Branden Ore returned following a marvelous 2006 season, his mediocre 2007 output and the plummeting of his draft stock.
Carmichael is rated as the second-best cornerback eligible for the 2011 NFL Draft by NFLDraftScout.com and the fourth-ranked returning cornerback by ESPN’s Mel Kiper. The 5-11 speedster assures that he pays no mind to the speculation quite yet, even after seeing close friend and former Hokie Jason Worilds make quite an appearance at this year’s NFL scouting combine.
“People ask me, you know, ‘Why you ain’t cut your hair? Why ain’t you cut your hair?’ Because I’m in the tunnel,” Carmichael says, who has one remaining season of eligibility, thanks to a redshirt season in 2006.
After securing the field corner position for the opener, he ascended to boundary on Sept. 12 against Marshall after Stephan Virgil, who’s now jockeying for draft favor, was injured.
Carmichael — who had backed up Harris at boundary in 2008 — would step in rather smoothly, leading the team in interceptions while securing the position as Virgil returned. Now playing a position that involved more man coverage, Carmichael grew even more comfortable.
He hit college pay dirt for the first time against Boston College, secured the win over Nebraska with a pick, and he helped bury Miami with a long return.
But the moment Carmichael can’t help pausing for came during the 37-14 Chik-fil-A Bowl victory over Tennessee, when he snatched one of his team-leading six interceptions.
“I will say that, I’ve seen the Chik-fil-A Bowl, the TV copy,” Carmichael says. “The interception was cool, but when the camera was on me on the sideline and I got to talk to my dad, I got to say what’s up to my dad and my mom — that was the best feeling. “I took a couple seconds right there and was like, ‘Wow, wish I could just keep rewinding and keep rewinding.’ ... Until this time next year, when I’m in (Worilds’) spot getting ready for the combine. Until then, I’m keeping the hair in.”