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06-13-2004, 07:12 AM
It's all on the table

By Joe Schad, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 13, 2004

DAVIE -- Dolphins rookie offensive tackle Vernon Carey surveys a pool table at Gatsby's, a popular hangout not far from training camp and the new home Carey will move into in July.

"It's not big enough to house a pool table," Carey said about his place. "So I'll have to get an outdoor pool table. That's right, it's not big enough. Man... I haven't been paid yet."

In an hour, about 20 Dolphins will arrive for an annual billiards tournament that's eventually won by veteran defensive linemen Larry Chester and David Bowens. Carey feels as comfortable around the pool table as he does on a football field, but he won't play in the tournament.

"They ain't ready for me, man," he said, grinning. "They don't want a piece of this rookie." Carey signals to a photographer.

"Take a picture of this, man. I'm gonna put away the 8 ball."

And he does.

Carey's been shooting pool since he was in the second grade. He tackled his father's table, every day, eight to 10 times a day. Weekends. Before school. After school. And when he moved to Liberty City, he continued playing at a neighborhood game hall.

"I used to play this man and he was so good," Carey said. "It cost a dollar to play and he used to let me play, but I wouldn't get a shot sometimes. I mean I was probably 9 years old, but he took my dollars from me. He was an old man, like 60 or 70 years old. He'd break and then shoot out. I'd be like, 'Man, let me get a shot! I paid a dollar!' But no matter how many times he did it to me, I just kept playing. I wouldn't quit."

Carey, who stands nearly 6-feet-5 and weighs 333 pounds, put his cue aside long enough to sit down and talk about a range of subjects, from cutting Popeye's chicken from his diet to stewing over pre-draft rumors and how he refuses to be embarrassed.

"Not even in pool," Carey said. "Edgerrin James is about the only person that beats me. That man will talk and play with you, all day."

First, he said, he needs to close out a series against his opponent.

"A few more shots," he promised.

The 19th pick in the NFL Draft, a Miami Hurricane, a 22-year-old father of 3-year-old Vernon Jr. and the man expected to start at right tackle for the Dolphins, Carey's youthful spirit emerges as he makes the final shot.

"Big time!" he said. "That's big time!"

So what is it you like so much about pool? It's a competitive sport. You've got to beat the man in front of you, just like football. That's how I compare it. I know that if I put my heart into it, I can beat anybody.

Your grandma says you were so big as a child that your chair in the dining room got weaker and weaker until it broke. I broke a lot of things. I ain't gonna lie. I was heavy-handed. I was heavy everything. So I was always in trouble. Breaking stuff. If I just walked by, I broke it. I got in a lot of trouble when I was kid.

What did you break? A bunch of chairs. My mom collected these glass elephants and I used to break them. Just walking by. And my mom used to get so mad like I purposely broke them.

You've got a nutritionist. What won't she let you eat? The fried foods and the sweets. She makes the sweets for me so I don't have to go out and eat. She made chocolate cake and pumpkin pie. And sweet potato pie. She makes it with less fat. I miss the fried chicken, though. Popeye's.

What makes you angry? When somebody lies about me. Like when they say I said something or did something. That makes me angry.

Has that happened a lot in your life? Yes. People say you've done this or you've done that. I just brush it off. Sometimes I need to go listen to church music to calm me down. Because I get really upset.

When was the last time you got real mad at somebody? Probably right before the draft. I mean, there was a rumor going around that said I did something or something like that and I was really upset. I had to relax and listen to church music and refocus.

Do you listen to church music before games? I used to listen to it in college before I left the hotel. And it calmed me down. Because I can get over-hyped and over-emotional. I didn't want to be in a negative state of mind. I try to stay normal because if I get over-hyped, I'll jump offsides or get penalties.

At what moment did you first feel like a professional football player? Probably the last mini-camp, because I started coming around, playing better, understanding the plays. I was able to block some of these guys. The first couple I didn't understand the plays so I had no concept. I didn't know which way to go, so it's kind of crazy. And the thing about it is I didn't play tackle all of last year. So it was like a whole year off. I had just had surgery on my knee. But now I'm picking things up.

What veteran has helped you? I've learned a lot from Jeno James. I look up to him. I like how he stays to himself and just his work ethic. He's very quiet and he just does what's asked of him. I think that's the type of player I want to be.

Has anyone given you a tip? Todd Wade... or Wade Smith -- I get confused with their names. (Wade) taught me something good. He taught me how to get into a small stance and to get off quick.

Even the best rookie linemen get exposed. Have you thought about that? That was the question (Dolphins GM) Rick Spielman asked me a long time ago. He said, 'How would you react if Jason Taylor was to beat you around the corner four times in practice? Are you going to suck it up or give up?' I said I'd keep going. I can't tell you what I really said. I've got pride. I've got heart. I wouldn't let that happen.

I'm going to read you an exact quote from Hurricanes offensive line coach Art Kehoe: 'There will be no place for Vernon to hide if he's soft and overweight and out of the league in three or four years. He would have to walk around his town explaining that to everybody. He's right. I used to say that myself. But right now I'm gaining so much confidence in my game that everything is going well. Everything is going forward. I won't go backwards. I will go forward. There are no limits.

Will it be harder playing at home? Of course. Everybody is saying, 'Hey, hey, hey, Vernon.' But you've got to know how to turn that off. This is my job. I am a professional. I have to know how to tune all the outside garbage out.

You come from a family of Bahamian swimmers. I love the islands, but I don't swim. My mom always tried to teach me. I went to classes but I never learned. Now that I have a son I'm going to put him into lessons because I've got a pool in the back. Yes (laughing), I'll go into the pool. It's not deep and I am 6-5.

Would you like Vernon Jr. to play football? Yes. Hopefully he will be better than me. That's everybody's goal and it should be, I think, for your child to be better than you. It may be in school. There's going to be a lot of pressure on him to be a better person than me. But if it comes down to it, he may be a basketball player.

What mind-set must linemen have for an effective ground game? You have to dominate the man in front of you. You have to get movement. The coach from Remember the Titans gave us a speech the other day. He said, 'Just get 3 yards.' You only have to get 3 yards and that was our goal at Miami. Get him 3 yards and he'll make a play from there or 3 yards will be good enough.

What do you enjoy most in life? I like relaxing with my son. No, let me change that. I like going out of town with my son. You know, when I was a kid I went to Disney World one time. And since my son has been born, he's been there four times. I mean, because I'm a big kid. I want to do things for my son that I couldn't do as a kid. We had financial problems but not now. So I want to go places. We go to Chuck E. Cheese. We go to the movies. It makes me feel good to know that I can go anywhere with my son and get him anything he wants.

What should fans know about you? That I'm a guy who likes to have fun and a guy who never wants to be embarrassed.

joe_schad@pbpost.com

Popcorn
06-13-2004, 11:05 AM
They had a charity thing there the other night with the Dolphins that cost $70.00 a head to get in. You could challenge the players for charity, that is probably when this interview was done.