Carino headed to Texas to play Division 2 football
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Near Christmas, I ran into Anastacio 'Tatin' Carino, a football player from St. Croix who has signed to play football at Texas A&M-Commerce, an NCAA Division 2 program.
Here's the story of Carino, who played at Ennis (Texas) High School, in his own words:
"I am a lifelong Baylor fan and in junior high, I saw the game of football and found it interesting. I wanted to learn more about the sport but we only played flag football. Four months after my uncle's father died, my uncle Henry and his wife, Marla Jackson, both came down from Texas to the funeral. I never saw them before and my aunt saw that I was 6-foot-6, 315 pounds. She asked me what sport I play. I said baseball. She then said those magical words: I should be playing football.
"Marla then talked to my parents, Anastacio Carino Sr. and Andrea Christian, and asked if my brother (Ismael) and I could move in with them. It took three long years for my parents to agree. During my sophomore year with St. Croix Educational Complex, the only year I played tackle football, I felt an adrenaline rush. The same feeling that was in my veins when Baylor played. I felt that I could be doing those things on the field. I believed at the time I was ready to play football in the states.
"Everything changed when I reached a small town outside of Ennis, which is about an hour outside of Dallas. Culture, weather, driving on the right, no island food, farm animals and farm land were the norm. There was no water! I love the smell of the beach and swimming but Ennis had none of this. We were the only Crucians at the school and our accent didn't help. Everyone wanted to know where we were from and even when we told them near Puerto Rico, they were still lost. I got real home sick!
"It was real rough until football practice started; back then I was 6-foot-7 350 pounds. My relationship with the coaches was real good. They had me running and lifting weights. I was never in a weight room before. At Complex they were scared that we would get hurt. Ennis' coaching staff changed my diet to try to increase my speed. Remember: Football is the top sport in Texas. You have to be aggressive and physical to be recognized.
"The first year, I had to play junior varsity because foreigners or transfers could not play varsity after transferring. I played defensive tackle and got better but I preferred playing offense. I got injured for six months and missed the rest of the season after an offensive lineman twisted my spine as he tried to block me. The X-ray showed I pinched a nerve. When I moved my leg I was in serious pain. I had scraped my growth plate, and I had to undergo months of therapy. A lot of injuries occur on the football field, some players even end up paralyzed. My motto is 'whatever happens, happens as long as I play to my fullest.'
"That same summer, I made a commitment to get better and attended football camps at North Texas, Texas Christian, Southern Methodist and Baylor. I ran 2 miles a day even when the weather was 100 degrees and more. During the offseason, we had two days of lifting weights from 8 a.m. until noon and again at 5 p.m. We then ran the football field eight times, and then ran the track for two hours. We would then practice technique, base plays and fundamentals. I lost 70 pounds that summer by giving up meat and only eating fruits, salads and some fish.
"I went out for offensive right tackle and there was a lot of competition for that spot. I battled with three guys for four months. Coach said the one that works the hardest gets the most time on Fridays. That summer camp was tough but it brought the team together and we became brothers. We had a great year and finished undefeated in regular season.
"But Ennis's weather changes - one day it is 75 degrees the next day it is 32 degrees. Some of the games felt like I was playing football in a freezer. I sometimes wondered why I am here but I persevered. I started the first playoff game, and then I got another bout with homesickness. However, we had unfinished business, and we were marching through the playoffs. We were predicted to lose most of the games we played in and we blew out about 10 teams by 50 or more points. We had a lot of leadership and positive attitudes. The sport got real exciting like when I was younger.
"We lost to Aledo, 22-9, in the state semifinals. Some were calling it the championship game before the championship game. Both teams were undefeated and Aledo went on to easily win the title. That was the most difficult time for us after dropping the game. We played 15 games together (14-1) and did not think the ride would end. In all, we came back to Ennis with six trophies, we played in Cowboys Stadium, won district, advanced to the semifinals, and were crowned area champs. The coaches called me their good luck charm because the school had never been this far.
"After the season, I only had two scholarship offers: Cisco (Texas) College and Texas A&M-Commerce. I did not have much exposure because I only had one year at my position. I went on one visit, and I was going to commit to a junior college but it was only two years. Then I was on a plane headed to the best place on earth - St. Croix. I was so happy to be home I literally kissed the ground.
"A snowstorm had me on St. Croix for one extra week and I was not complaining. Ennis had exams the following week so my teachers sent me information through email. When I returned, I wanted to hit the weight room because I did nothing at home but I was summoned by my coaches. I was patiently waiting on my coach when a recruiter came out of a meeting. He saw me sitting there then inquired about me after I stood up. He went back into the coaches office and I overheard them talking about me. My coach told him I was a fast learner. I could hear by the tone in his voice that he was excited to see me. He then came out the office and spoke to me for a bit then we exchanged phone numbers. He took my transcripts and about 20 minutes later he reviewed my film and said I could be a great player.
"I then found out I had a visit at Commerce set for Jan. 23, the following week. The coaches called me every day to see if I was still interested and every night to see if anything had changed. The coach came to my house and talked to my family to make sure everything was in place. My cousin, who attends Commerce, drove down from her apartment which was near to the school. I walked into the coach's office and they shook my hand and spoke about the school and they wanted to know more about the Virgin Islands. They loved my accent and one of them even visited on a cruise that had stopped on St. Thomas. That was the clincher for me.
"We spoke about what their expectations were for me. They believe if I am in the weight room for the next two years, I could be bigger and stronger. The day was extremely cold because Commerce is close to Oklahoma. The tour started at 7 a.m. and ended at 6 p.m. The school is under renovations. The weight room is being expanded and the fieldhouse, with the biggest logo in the world, is being remodeled. After the tour, about 40 of us had to sit and wait to be interviewed.
"After about an hour, I was called in to talked about my scholarship, books, tuition and financial-aid grants. They told me the reason they wanted me on their team is because I don't have bad habits. We spoke a bit and I was made an offer. It took me about three seconds and I said, "yes."
"He told the other coaches I committed and they cheered. I was speechless! A boy from St. Croix who doesn't really know how to play football receives a scholarship. I thanked everyone, including my family. I was told that they would send the letter of intent to my counselor and all I had to do was wait for signing day.
"Ennis has a tradition of calling all seniors who have received letters of intent to the auditorium. There was a table on stage with five football players and three softball players. They gave us the contract and we signed it quickly before anything happened. The counselors faxed the letters back before the ink dried.
"During a ceremony, our head coach came out and said how proud he was to have coached us and the pastor prayed over us. It was a real special day. I couldn't come to grips with what was going on. It was very emotional and my aunt was crying. It took me a while to soak in everything and to understand that my life was changing.
"Then we were given blank paper and, with the press and coaches in attendance, we signed a blank piece of paper. I still have that paper and I am keeping it as a souvenir. I will forever remember the day I signed with Texas A&M-Commerce ... Go Lions!"