When Furman linebacker Carl Rider took the field for the season opener against visiting Coastal Carolina his engine was running in overdrive to the point he made a couple of miscues on the game’s opening series.
Who could blame him for being amped up? After all, Rider missed virtually the entire 2014 season. He was finally able to go full throttle in a game for the first time in close to two years.
“It was definitely a little nerve-racking at the beginning of the game,” he recalled. “I had a lot of adrenaline going and I made a couple of mistakes on the first drive because there was so much racing through my brain. It took a little time to calm down.”
Coming off a strong sophomore season in which he led the Southern Conference in tackles, Rider was looking forward to bigger and better in 2014. However, during spring drills he injured his right shoulder. He played through the pain and following the Paladins’ spring game he had an MRI that revealed a torn labrum.
The rehab process put him on target to return early in the 2014 season, which he did in Furman’s second game at Mercer.
He entered the game at the start of Mercer’s third possession and on the second play he chased and tackled quarterback John Russ. In so doing Rider fell on his left shoulder and immediately knew there was a problem.
“I couldn’t believe that after all the rehab and all the time missed that I actually hurt the other shoulder,” he said. “It was kind of mind blowing, so I tried to go one more play thinking ‘This can’t be happening.’ It kept throbbing and I went to the sideline knowing something was wrong.”
Within a week he had yet another surgery for yet another torn labrum. With the 2014 season a wash after just three snaps he had no choice but to commence rehab once again and look forward to 2015.
“It is never good when you form a good relationship with your therapist,” he said. “He told me I was going to get better and he kept reassuring me that everything was going to be fine.”
With the support of family, friends and a patient coaching staff that offered encouragement Rider soon saw the light at the of the tunnel.
He returned for spring practice having strengthened his upper body, though he was careful not to overexert and possibly suffer a setback. By the time preseason camp arrived in August Rider was ready to go, but still a little nervous.
“There were definitely a couple of weeks at the beginning of practice where I was a little worried how it might hold up,” said Rider, who received a medical redshirt and has one more season of eligibility. “Once I got past the first couple weeks I forgot about my shoulder and was able to focus on football.”
While not happy with being sidelined for an entire season, the time away from the gridiron accorded him the opportunity to explore other things on campus. That included joining an a cappella group – the FUtones – and performing in concerts and charity events.
“I would not really consider myself a singer by any means, but it has been really fun,” he said. “That is something that I am passionate about and it has been a good thing to get involved with that is very different from football.”
Rider is also passionate about his work in the classroom and his diligence paid off earlier this month when he was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District 4 team. That should come as no major shock given he is a three-time Southern Conference academic honor roll selection, but he was not expecting it.
“That really took me by surprise,” he said. “It was nice to get that recognition and see how the work has paid off on and off the field. It is not just me because there are many players on our team who do very well in the classroom. People do not notice that sometimes because they see us as football players. There is a lot more to us.”
On the field he heads into Saturday’s season finale at Wofford second on the Paladins and fifth in the conference with 94 tackles. Eleven of those tackles came in a 16-15 win at Central Florida in September. It was Furman’s first win over an FBS opponent after losing 15 straight since topping North Carolina in 1999.
“That was definitely one of the best memories I will have from playing at Furman,” he said. “I am happy with how this whole year has gone concerning my health and my shoulders in particular.”
Above and on the cover: Furman’s Carl Rider missed significant time after injuring both shoulders, nearly a year apart. He used his time away from football to experience more of campus life, including joining a singing group. (Courtesy Furman Athletics)