Sept. 13, 2007, 12:42AM
Corner gets 2nd crack at 1st impression
Older and wiser, A&M's Carpenter regains starting gig
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COLLEGE STATION - Texas A&M cornerbacks coach Van Malone is more than willing to praise his players when they do well, because he does quite the opposite when they don't.
These days, Malone can't say enough positive about senior cornerback Marquis Carpenter.
"I said to him after (Saturday's game), 'I'm more than proud of you because you have shown great leadership for us, doing it the way we want,' " Malone said. "He's a young man, a college student, so he's going to make some mistakes every now and then, but he's buying into what we're selling and he is trying to lead the other guys."
Troublemaker to playmaker
The player who was pushed to the side last season because of his lack of discipline has re-emerged as one of the biggest playmakers in the Aggies' secondary. Carpenter is expected to make his first start in two years Saturday when 25th-ranked A&M hosts Louisiana-Monoroe.
It will mark the continuation of a journey that has seen Carpenter take more responsibility on and off the field.
"This is the most focused I've ever been playing football," Carpenter said. "I've never been so focused like I am now."
That's certainly a departure from last season, when, by all accounts, Carpenter lost accountability with his coaches.
His timing couldn't have been worse. After starting six games as a junior college transfer in 2005, Carpenter found himself having to make an impression on a new defensive coordinator and a new position coach. Showing up late for meetings, not taking his role as a student seriously and lacking discipline on the field left his new coaches unsure whether they could trust him.
Never mind that he had led the Aggies in interceptions the year before, with four.
"He had an opportunity to play quite a bit before we got here," Malone said. "If you look back at the videos and watch him play, some of that was just him being undisciplined, being a young man who freelances and is a free-willing guy.
"He was a pretty good talent, but one of the things we stressed when we got here defensively is we had to have guys who were accountable and we could trust, and he struggled with that at first."
The message became clear after the product of Melbourne, Fla., spent most of last season watching as his teammates played nearly every Big 12 game down to the wire - losing three on pass plays. Carpenter decided his senior season had to be different.
In the spring, he dedicated himself in the classroom and on the field to being everything his new coaches wanted. He made every meeting on time, was a leader in the weight room and in offseason conditioning drills, and he picked it up in the classroom.
Adding to his motivation was the birth of his daughter, Kayden, this summer.
"Actually, having a little girl, she kept my mind right," Carpenter said. "She let me know I have to do my part in order for things to work out."
In no time at all, his coaches took notice. Carpenter was a standout in the spring game, finishing with nine tackles and one interception.
And he picked it up where he left off in preseason workouts, pushing sophomore Jordan Peterson for a starting spot. Both played a lot in the first two games, but it became obvious during Saturday's 47-45 triple-overtime victory over Fresno State that Carpenter is playing better at this point.
"We've been really pleased with him," A&M coach Dennis Franchione said. "He's been more consistent than ever before, and that's been his weakness a little bit, his inconsistency."
A matter of consistency
For Malone, it's important that Carpenter is consistent in all facets of his life. So far, so good.
"I'm at a point where I trust him," Malone said. "If he says he is going to be there at 2 o'clock, he's going to be there at 2 o'clock. We're excited about where he is going now - he's moving close to graduation."
Now that Carpenter has regained his starting spot, his goal is to maintain it. He will likely split time with Arkeith Brown, as he did when Peterson got benched Saturday, opposite Danny Gorrer.
"Just because I'm a starter, I'm not trying to go into practice or the game changing up how I play," said Carpenter, who has four tackles, two pass breakups and an interception so far this season. "I'm going to keep playing the way I've been ever since spring ball and fall camp and these last two games.
"I just want to keep on playing and keep my mind right and everything will work out."