HOUSTON -- David Carr threw his first passes to his father, Rodger, inside their California home. The broken furniture was proof the tosses weren't all completed.
Father and son eventually took their game of catch to the back yard, then to the street. The son hasn't stopped throwing, and his arm helped him make it to the NFL as the No. 1 draft pick of the expansion Houston Texans.
''When David could first sit up, I put a football in his hands,'' his father said. ''We just always threw the football together. He seemed to always say, 'Let's throw the football Dad,' and I said, 'Let's go.'''
David was still in junior high school when Rodger Carr realized his son was more talented than other kids. Not only was he out-throwing high schoolers at the park, he was completing 85 percent of his passes in games.
But Carr wasn't exactly a prodigy. He started only two seasons in high school, then hardly played his first two years at Fresno State. Coach Pat Hill stunned Carr by suggesting he redshirt in his third year.
''I knew what I had to do on the field, it was more the off-field stuff,'' Carr said. ''It was typical growing up stuff. I wasn't sure that I wanted to be there.''
The problem was his girlfriend, Melody, who was back home in Bakersfield. Carr had trouble concentrating on his studies, and he fell into some sloppy habits.
But then they got married, and he became a starter his junior year.
After throwing four interceptions in his first start against Ohio State, Carr threw only eight more in 2000. The Bulldogs went 7-5 and Carr threw for 2,338 yards and 18 touchdowns.
The hype took off last season with Carr on the preseason lists for all kinds of awards. He led the Bulldogs to an 11-2 record, with upsets of Colorado and Wisconsin, peaking at No. 8 in the poll.
Carr didn't quite match his junior high completion percentage of 85, but he did complete 63 percent and led the nation with 4,308 yards passing. He also had 42 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions.
That earned Carr the Johnny Unitas, Sammy Baugh and Pop Warner awards.
He was the sixth college quarterback to throw for at least 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns in a season.
The Texans were on to Carr for a long time. Although not sure they wanted to pick a quarterback No. 1, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Carr's ability and demeanor convinced the Texans he was worth it.
''When we identified his skill being worthy of the No. 1 pick, we did a lot of psychological testing,'' offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said. ''We asked, 'How would you feel about being the first player selected?' 'How would you handle it if you had to sit out for a year?' 'How would you handle it if you were pulled out of a game?'
''He passed all the tests with flying colors.''
Coach Dom Capers wanted to know whom Carr resembled.
''I told Dom he reminded me of (Brett) Favre with his arm strength and how he throws to different spots at the college level,'' Palmer said.
Although there was some debate whether Carr or Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington was the better quarterback, the issue was settled with the Texans. Carr was their man.
They made their decision two weeks before the draft. Carr moved to Houston, bought a home and became a millionaire, signing a seven-year contact worth $47 million. It could go up to $60 million if he reaches all his incentive clauses.
Many expect to see a long and luminous pro career for the one-time furniture wrecker. His fans include five-time Pro Bowl lineman Tony Boselli, probably the second-most glittering name on the Texans behind Carr.
''The athletic ability he has is what has stood out,'' Boselli said. ''He's made a couple of plays in training camp that the guys will just stand and look at and shake their heads at his arm strength and the way he moves around.
''He knows what's ahead of him. He'll have some ups and downs, but he stays on even keel. I think he'll be great.''
Carr's biggest fan in the NFL is Seattle's Trent Dilfer, another former Fresno State quarterback.
Dilfer never reached his promise as the sixth player taken in the 1993 draft by Tampa Bay. After the Bucs released him, he joined the Ravens and guided them to the 2000 NFL title.
''Our situations were very similar, and because of that, I tried to help him not make some of the same mistakes that I made,'' Dilfer said. ''He can learn some things from me, but other things he's got to learn from himself. I think he's going to be a great quarterback, one of the fine ones in our game in the next 10 years.''
Kerry Collins was Capers' rookie quarterback with the expansion Carolina Panthers in 1995. His advice: ''Weather the bad times, learn from the bad times and learn from the good times.''
''It's a constant learning process,'' said Collins, now with the Giants. ''He's in for an interesting ride, I'll say that. It's a lot of fun sometimes, and sometimes it's not fun.''
The Texans signed 11-year veteran Kent Graham to start until Carr could take charge. But Carr has been the starter from Day 1.
In his first two preseason games, Carr completed 18 of 31 passes for 191 yards. He's thrown his first interception and received his first sack.
''He's shown the ability to avoid pressure,'' Capers said. ''He can improvise sometimes and make plays when they aren't there.''
A sidearm delivery that raised questions before the draft hasn't been a problem with Palmer.
''His release point in college was not the same because, with his great talent, he took some liberties with his throws,'' Palmer said. ''Here, he's been pretty good. His mechanics have been very solid.''
Carr's composure under fire has impressed Capers.
''The thing that David gives you is a chance to make a big play at any point and that's a good place to start,'' Capers said. ''He's continued to progress with an understanding of what we can and can't do versus certain defensive schemes.''
Carr still remembers the games of catch that launched his career. He even has the brown football he and his dad used to throw around. No matter how tired he is when he comes home, he's always willing to pull out that battered ball and toss it around with his 2-year-old son, Austin.
Soon, Melody will insist they take their game outside.
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