Casey Carroll's 10-year odyssey
Former Army Ranger wraps up college career with national title
BALTIMORE -- Casey Carroll has a few memories from Memorial Day.
Two of them involve the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
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The statistics do not show a dominant performance -- two ground ball pickups and a turnover. None of that really matters, though.
A career that started in Durham, North Carolina, way back in 2004, concluded on Memorial Day 2014, with a national championship for the Duke senior. The Blue Devils beat Notre Dame 11-9 in front of 25,587 fans.
"It's hard to deny that this is a pretty incredible one for sure," said Carroll, a 29-year-old from Baldwin, New York. "I'm so grateful for the men and women who've made the ultimate sacrifice, to my family who have supported me in this crazy adventure. For my coaches and teammates, I was just riding their coat tails all season."
Another NCAA title game also sticks out -- 2010. That year, while deployed in Afghanistan, Carroll was able to watch the Blue Devils beat Notre Dame for the program's first national championship.
It was not an air-conditioned sports bar or at some alumni party. It was in the keep-your-head-down world of the military in foreign theaters. Watching his alma mater play lacrosse was a temporary break from the 24-hour-a-day stress of combat zones.
"If someone would have told me that I would have been playing in this game I would have just laughed it off," Carroll said following Monday's victory. "It was so far away [in 2010]. But I didn't come back to try to win a championship or to right wrongs or losses; I just wanted to be back in the Duke family. All this stuff is just icing on the cake.
"There are so many people responsible for where I am today."
Carroll returned to lacrosse after four years in the Army, not pushing pencils or out of harm's way, but with the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, a high-stress, elite -- volunteer -- combat unit. He had four deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
An All-American for Duke in 2007, Carroll returned to campus in Durham not necessarily expecting to play lacrosse again. One thing led to another and, after showing head coach Jon Danowski he could hack it with the Blue Devils' young guns after almost 2,500 days away from the game, was set to suit up in 2013.
Four deployments in combat zones and not a scratch. One afternoon on a lacrosse practice field and a torn anterior cruciate ligament kept him out for Duke's run to the 2013 national championship.
As a 29-year-old husband, father and veteran, Carroll did not miss a game in 2014. His statistics show he's not the team's best defender -- he admits he might be the third-best of the starting three. But "team leader" does not begin to describe his contribution. When the "Old Man" speaks, everybody listens.
"Casey would tell you that he's no more special than anyone, but when he talks, everyone listens," Duke senior Christian Walsh said earlier this week. "We hold him in a different light for what he has done for his country. On the field, he's been awesome, with all that's going on in his life. The rest of us complain about having to write papers for class, and here's a guy balancing school, marriage, two kids and lacrosse."
"He's extremely unique," Danowski said. "He wants to be the same kid who left here in 2007, and it has been a joy to have him out there. The kids love him. They respect him so much for what he has done in his personal and professional life -- as a soldier, a student, a dad and a husband."
Carroll earned his bachelor's degree in history in 2007. He added to his academic resume two weeks ago by earning a Master of Business Administration degree.
On Monday, he finished his collegiate athletic career on a national championship team.
"I'm moving to Charlotte on the 29th [of May] and I need to try and cash in on Memorial Day sales for refrigerators," the "Old Man" said. "We are looking at a Kenmore Elite, maybe with French doors and the freezer on the bottom ….
"I'm just looking forward to spending time with my family and showing my wife how grateful I am for all the sacrifices she's made."
With a degree in history, a master's, four combat tours, a nice little family, and now a national championship ring, it appears Casey Carroll will be just fine.