By MAREK WARSZAWSKI, The Fresno Bee
Twelve years ago Sunday, on Sept. 29, 2001, Derek Carr had his first brush with the Heisman Trophy.
He hopes it won't be the last.
That was the day the hallowed bronze statue made a tour stop at Fresno State as the nationally ranked and undefeated Bulldogs welcomed Louisiana Tech.
The reason was David Carr, who over those preceding weeks made himself into a Heisman candidate. Of course the candidate's family, including his 10-year-old brother, received a special viewing.
"It was something you only dream of seeing," Derek Carr recalled after a recent practice. "I got to touch it. I got to hold it. I got to take a picture with it."
Wait, wait, wait. The Heisman Trophy weighs 25 pounds, base included. Carr held and lifted it?
"It's real heavy," he said. "I tried, but I was too little."
Carr's own Heisman candidacy got a lift when Fresno State set up a website (www.dc4heisman.com) devoted to its senior quarterback, plus the requisite Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Except Carr isn't just a college football star. He's also a college football fan.
During the season's first four weeks, the Bulldogs played one game on a Thursday, one game on a Friday and didn't play another. That's left ample time on Saturdays to size up the competition.
Fresno State held off Hawaii, 42-37, late Saturday night for a 4-0 overall record and 2-0 in the Mountain West Conference, as the Bulldogs survived after leading 42-3. Carr completed 33 of 47 passes for 324 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw two interceptions, which ended a streak of 181 consecutive passes without an interception.
Carr saw Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota live and in person last year at Autzen Stadium. What were his impressions?
"Just an incredible athlete. They run a great system, and both he and (running back) De'Anthony (Thomas) are crazy fast."
How about last year's winner, Johnny Manziel?
"What stands out to me is his speed. He can really run, and I think that's his game the way he scrambles and makes plays."
Clemson's Tajh Boyd?
"I like watching him. When he talks it sounds like he's very humble, and I'm a fan of guys who give credit to their teammates."
Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater?
"He's just so big and athletic. This class is loaded with quarterbacks."
UCLA's Brett Hundley?
"I watched the Nebraska game. What a great comeback. He's another big, athletic guy."
As you can tell, Carr's answers started to run out of steam. That was the point of the exercise, to illustrate the depth of this year's Heisman field. And I left out Alabama's A.J. McCarron, Georgia's Todd Gurley and others.
Heck, Carr might not even be the frontrunner in his own conference.
In the first Scripps Heisman Poll, which has correctly predicted the winner 22 of the past 26 years, Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton received one point for a fifth-place vote.
That's one more point than Carr got.
In ESPN.com's latest Heisman poll, Carr is not listed among 12 players receiving votes from the panel of 16 experts even though Fresno State's victories against Rutgers and Boise State were both televised by ESPN. (Carr had 916 passing yards, nine touchdowns and one pick in those games. Guess their experts weren't sufficiently impressed.)
CBSSports.com is showing more love. Carr is No. 5 on the site's current Heisman rankings behind Mariota, Manziel, Bridgewater and Boyd.
It has been more than two decades since a player who wasn't from a major conference won the Heisman (Brigham Young's Ty Detmer, 1990). Which automatically makes Carr a darkhorse candidate, an outsider in a race crowded with favorites.
He knows it, but professes not to care.
"None of those things bother me," Carr said. "As a competitor, if we're all standing side by side and having a passing contest, I like my chances. Not in an arrogant way. But that's how I think."
There would be no official Heisman campaign if the Bulldogs weren't undefeated at this point. That was the agreement made before training camp between Carr, coach Tim DeRuyter and the folks who handle Fresno State's sports marketing and communications.
The subject didn't come up again, Carr said, until after the Boise State victory:
"They asked me after the game, 'Is it OK if we start it?' and I said, 'Of course.' I'm all for it because it's only going to help Fresno State get recognition and help with recruiting. And it won't change who I am as a person."
DeRuyter admits he was initially against the idea because of the potential team disruptions.
"But if there's anyone who can handle the attention, it's him," DeRuyter said. "Derek is a team player at his core, and his teammates know that."
In many ways, Carr's Heisman candidacy rides shotgun to the team's success. As long as the Bulldogs stay undefeated, he will continue to be in the running. And it wouldn't hurt to pile up some crazy numbers these next few weeks against weak competition.
If Fresno State becomes this year's BCS buster, I can picture Carr getting an invitation to the ceremony -- something his brother didn't get to experience.
Just don't suggest that crossing off another box on the family checklist (conference title, beat Boise) might satisfy him.
"For me to be a finalist would be an amazing honor," Carr said. "But if I'm invited, I want to win.
"If I got invited there and didn't win, I'd be upset."
Spoken like a true competitor, and a true fan.