Originally published on Oct. 1
Carson Earp doesn’t mean to split heirs, but you’ve got to go with your gut. Favorite movie about his distant cousin? “Tombstone” in 1993. Favorite film portrayal of said cousin? Kevin Costner in “Wyatt Earp,” 1994.
“I thought it was kind of cool,” the Lamar quarterback chuckled, “that Kevin Costner played him in ‘Wyatt Earp,’ personally.”
How’s this for cool: The junior signal-caller is, in fact, the seventh cousin of the lawman and legend of the O.K. Corral — and a direct descendant of Earp’s uncle Lorenzo.
“Or at least, that’s what I’ve been told my whole life,” said Carson, whose Cardinals (2-1, 1-0 Southland Conference) visit Southeastern Louisiana (2-1, 1-0) Thursday in a contest televised nationally by ASN at 7 p.m. ET.
And yet no love for Kurt Russell?
“That’s cool, too, I guess,” Earp said, chuckling again. “A lot of my peers don’t even know who Wyatt Earp was. One of my teammates came up to me and said something about it: ‘Who’s Wyatt Earp?’ I’m like, ‘He was the famous gunman, way back in the day.’”
As for seventh cousin Carson, well, the dude slings a bit of a mean gun himself. Earp the younger threw for 223 yards and four scores in a 49-46 win at Southland Conference favorite Sam Houston State on Sept. 19 — the program’s first road victory over the Bearkats since 1959. In only three games, Earp has an efficiency rating of 162.1 — 14th in FCS.
“Carson’s made a lot of plays, but there are a lot of plays I’d like for him to make moving forward, as he’s playing more and he gains more experience,” Cardinals quarterback coach Ramon Flanigan said of his signal-caller. “I think his best football is ahead of him, no question.”
The best opportunity, too. The 21st century Earp had been sharing time under center with senior quarterback Joe Minden to start the season, until the latter broke a bone on his right hand during a 66-31 loss at Baylor on Sept. 12. For at least another month, it’s Carson’s turn, health permitting, a law unto himself.
“Carson’s played well,” Flanigan said, “but there are a lot of things that he can improve on.”
Things well beneath the surface, just waiting to be scratched. Flanigan remembered the first time he sized up Earp in person. They joke about it now, how the coach asked the skinny transfer from Navarro (Texas) College what the best attributes were that he brought to the table.
“Scrambling,” Earp replied.
He didn’t blink.
“I looked at him and I just started smiling,” the coach recalled. “(I saw) a 6-foot-4 white kid and I assumed he couldn’t run. And Carson is a phenomenal athlete, he runs very, very well. It’s funny: You look at him and you watch him and you say, ‘Is he really going that fast?’”
More often than not, he is. The junior gained 59 yards on the ground at Sam Houston State on just five carries, bringing his average this season to 9.6 yards per rush.
“I think I just catch people off-guard,” Earp cracked.
The “skinny” part is a little deceiving, too. Flanigan calls him, pound for pound, “one of the strongest guys on the team.”
And one of the strongest finds. After throwing for 19 touchdowns last fall at Navarro, Earp said his scholarship options were down to Lamar, Houston Baptist or Central Connecticut. Ultimately, he dug the Cardinals’ coaches, the campus, and the fact it was a relatively new program — having reinstated football in 2010 — on the upswing.
“Plus, it was two hours from home,” said Earp, a native of Robinson, Texas. “That’s the one thing: I wasn’t going to go all the way to Connecticut.”
Old West game. Old West name.
“Most of my knowledge (of Wyatt) comes from the movies,” Earp said. “I’ve never written a term paper on Wyatt Earp or any kind of biography or anything like that for school.”
He insists he’s no expert on the Earp legacy, although Carson did offer up this nugget: Growing up, some family members preferred to pronounce the last name as “Arp,” like “harp,” rather than “Earp,” like “burp.”
“One of my great-grandmothers on my father’s side didn’t like the way it sounded,” Carson explained.
Then again, why let a little semantics get in the way of a great narrative?
“He’s the most laid-back kid I’ve ever been around,” Flanigan said of Carson, who’s thrown for six scores with no picks this fall while completing 58% (29 of 50) of his attempts. “Definitely the most laid-back kid I’ve ever coached.”
It’s a fine line, the whole “chill” thing, the occasional double-edged sword. But he’s also never backed down from a shootout.
“The only down side is every once in a while, you’d like the guy to be a little bit more vocal,” Flanigan said. “And on the (other) side, what they have is an even-keeled demeanor, especially when things are at their toughest. I’ll take that over a rah-rah guy.”
Carson Earp: Cool under fire. After all, it runs in the family.