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Holt Carlen was not born the last time his father spoke at the annual Heisman Trophy dinner in New York City.'
"He used to think my coaching career went all the way back to Thomas Heyward Academy," quipped Hilton Head Island resident Jim Carlen, who coached the Rebels for one season in the early 1990s, several years after his tenure as the head football coach at the University of South Carolina.'
Carlen is probably best remembered -- among college football fans, if not members of his own household -- for leading the Gamecocks to three bowl games and coaching 1980 Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers.'
Carlen and his 17-year-old son will be on hand Saturday when this year's Heisman Trophy winner is announced, and Carlen will speak at the annual Heisman dinner on Monday, when Rogers will be honored on the 25th anniversary of his award.'
Carlen didn't coach college football again after leaving the Gamecocks' sideline after the 1981 season. But after settling on Hilton Head, he spent one season at Thomas Heyward and later was the first head football coach at Hilton Head Christian Academy, where Holt spent one varsity season playing for his father.'
The younger Carlen is now a senior at Columbia's Hammond School, where he was a S.C. Independent School Athletic Association North-South All-Star selection this season.'
"He's going to be so excited to be up there to see New York City and to be in that atmosphere," said Carlen, who has not attended Heisman festivities since Rogers beat out Pittsburgh defensive end Hugh Green for the award.'
"It's really an interesting thing," Carlen said. "People don't realize the ties. I'm intrigued to see all of those people, all the people I know from coaching, the people I've recruited like (1977 Heisman winner) Earl Campbell, who I didn't get when I was at Texas Tech because he went to Texas."'
Carlen said he is looking forward to experiencing that camaraderie again. He has not attended annual NCAA coaches and athletics directors meetings since leaving college football ... and seldom did even while he was a head coach at South Carolina, Texas Tech and West Virginia.'
"As a young coach, those kind of things were exciting, but I kept wondering why so few head coaches were there," Carlen said. "You'd walk through the lobby of the hotel, but only about four or five head coaches were out there. Once I became a head coach, I figured out why -- it was a sad time. Every time you walk through the lobby, 15 guys would grab you because they were out of work looking for a job."'
Carlen said he will deliver a 10-minute introductory speech at Monday's dinner, where Rogers will be honored along with this year's winner and former Ohio State star Howard "Hopalong" Cassady, who won the award 50 years ago.'
Rogers, a two-time All-American, led the nation with 1,894 yards in 1980 and still holds the Gamecocks' career and single-season rushing records.'
"But I'm not going to talk about all the statistics," Carlen said. "Statistics mean nothing to me. That's what won him the trophy, don't get me wrong, but it's not what I remember about him."'
Instead, Carlen remembers an intensely shy and humble kid recruited out of Duluth, Ga., who teamed with tailback Johnnie Wright to become the nation's only all-freshman backfield tandem in 1977. Midway through that year, Carlen decided to move Rogers from fullback to tailback, a switch Rogers resisted.'
"He told me, 'Coach, I don't want to play tailback because Johnny is my friend,' " Carlen recalled. "I told him, 'He might be your friend, but I'm your coach. You're playing tailback.''
"But that's the way he was. He was always concerned about other people."'
Wright still managed to become the Gamecocks' third-leading career rusher when he graduated in 1981 (he is now sixth), but Rogers went on to even bigger things -- he was the first pick in the 1981 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints and was the NFL's Rookie of the Year that season.'
But Carlen said his proudest memory of Rogers is not the day he won the Heisman or the day he became the university's only No. 1 draft pick; it's the day Rogers earned his degree from South Carolina, several years after ending a seven-year stint in the NFL.'
Carlen and Rogers remained close after going their separate ways -- Carlen said that he brought Rogers to Hilton Head to arrange counseling when the running back admitted he used cocaine during his rookie season with the Saints. Carlen said he still talks frequently with Rogers, who now works for the university.'
"If you asked me what's the most important thing I did in coaching -- the big wins, the bowl games, the statistics -- I'd still say the most important thing is my players," Carlen said. "That's what's most important to me, and I still hear about them all the time.'
"That's why I'm going to be happy to go up there with George."