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Monday, August 4, 1997

Shante Carver displays new ethic, aims to alter reputation

By Clarence E. Hill Jr. / Knight-Ridder Newspapers

AUSTIN, Texas - Shante Carver will tell you that the tardiness at team meetings and the loafing at practice is all in the past.

Gone as well, the Cowboys' defensive end said, is his affinity for night life, which partly contributed to a six-game suspension last season for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.

But Carver's off-field metamorphosis will not matter if it does not affect his on-field play, which has been less than spectacular in his three years with the Cowboys.

In the final year of his contract, Carver, 26, must replace perennial All-Pro Charles Haley. The retirement of Haley last month has given Carver, who has only 10 starts and 5.5 sacks in three seasons, a chance to wipe away the "bust" label hanging on him like so many 300-pound offensive linemen.

"Not many rookies were going to beat out a healthy Charles Haley," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "Yet (Carver) is an example of how bad our drafts have been. Now he is getting his chance. And people are going to have a different opinion of Shante."

Adds Carver: "For me to have success will prove that they knew what they were doing."

Through two weeks of training camp, the 6-foot-5, 253-pound Carver, who is battling veteran Broderick Thomas for Haley's job, has impressed defensive coordinator Dave Campo with his fresh attitude.

"He is focused, more serious and more into what's going on. I think the problem he had last year woke him up. He has approached it like it's a fragile deal," said Campo, adding that Carver's approach is one of, "I could lose this thing tomorrow. I have to do what I have to do."

Defensive tackle Chad Hennings, who has played alongside Carver the past three years, has also noticed a change.

"He's contributing to meetings, and he is on time to everything," Hennings said. "His whole approach to the game is different."

Carver, who has taken on the responsibility of caring for two nephews and a niece for his troubled brother, said that his mind is free and that he's relaxed and able to concentrate on nothing but football for the first time in his career.

He credits some of his attitude change to a more stable home life - and to Haley's departure, which has finally given Carver an opportunity to win a starting job.

Because Carver is in the final year of contract that will pay him $735,000, he said it is time for him to take a serious look at his job.

"It has come to a time where I realize that this is my livelihood," Carver said. "I like playing football and I get paid well to do it. I've got to take it seriously like that."

Carver said he began to reinvent himself during the drug suspension last season. He said that being away from the game was tough, but that he took time to get his life together because of the new responsibilities.

"The tough part is you feel you let people down," Carver said. "It was my fault, and I take full responsibility. The fact that I brought my niece and nephews up here (during the time off) to live with me and my girlfriend made me focus more.

"Now I have someone depending on me. They depend on me as much as I depend on them."

The Cowboys are depending on Carver, who attended Arizona State, to live up to the expectations of being their first-round selection (28th overall) of the 1994 draft. Carver is locked in a battle with Thomas, who is considered a better pass rusher but is not as adept at stopping the run. And though Carver is listed as the starter, Campo said the battle with Thomas is far from over.

"I think it's going good," Campo said. "Both are good football players who bring different things to the table. Shante is a good run defender who works at the pass rush, and Broderick is a good pass rusher who is working on his run defense. I want one to win the job. But we'll still use both in a rotation like we always have."

Carver didn't even make the rotation the first six games of last season, when the substance-abuse suspension became the second of two major off-field incidents that have shadowed him. As a rookie, Carver was involved in an automobile accident, abandoned the car, then reported it stolen.

However, Carver, who was raised by a single mother in Stockton, Calif., has refused to let those incidents defeat him. He has overcome greater obstacles. During his sophomore year at Arizona State, Carver was kicked out of school. His mother died a week later, and his grandmother died two weeks after that.

"That was the toughest thing I ever had to go through," he said. "I had to go back to school and I didn't have a mom. But I overcame."

And Carver, sporting a clean-shaven head, believes that he has come clean as a football player as well.

So no matter how things turn out in the pressure-packed battle with Thomas, Carver said he's at ease and worry-free. All he has ever wanted was a chance.

"My mind is free, and I am not worried anymore," Carver said. "All I have to do is play football. If I don't do my job now, I might be a bust. But I am finally getting my chance. After this, they can call me whatever they want."

(c) 1997, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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All content copyright 1997, AP, KRT, The Abilene Reporter-News and Reporter OnLine

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