STORRS — Watching Carlton Steer lining up just inches in front of Kevon Jones at the UConn football team’s practice on a steamy Wednesday afternoon with the second-team defense, it’s hard not to want to tell the hometown kid makes good story.
While seeing the only two players on the 2018 football roster from the same town where the Huskies play their home games is a wonderful story line, but that fact that Steer, a senior defensive lineman, is even on the practice field and moving toward college graduation is such a remarkable accomplishment whether he hails from East Hartford or East St. Louis.
Dealing with stretches of being homeless dating back to his early teenage years and realizing that just two years ago Steer walked away from not only the Central Connecticut State football program but life as a college student makes for the ultimate tale of overcoming adversity.
“Interesting story,” Steer said. “Some trials and tribulations more than the average person I would think but I use everything as motivation. I believe every day that you are alive is a great day, any day you are alive is an opportunity for you to be better. Anything in my past, I let it go. If I wake up that day, I take that day head on.”
Although he wasn’t able to play at UConn in 2017, he bonded with former UConn and current Washington Redskins linebacker Vontae Diggs, who also was homeless earlier in his life.
“I am excited for him to see what he is doing,” Steer said. “We run back and forth and have bible studies and pray together. It is just exciting seeing somebody like him do the things he is doing. It gives me hope.”
It must have been hard for Steer to maintain that positive outlook when the day after playing in Central Connecticut State’s 56-21 loss to nationally ranked James Madison on Sept. 10, 2016, Steer made the decision to walk away from it all.
“Leaving CCSU, that was the institution I was at for a couple of years and when I left that school there was no for sure guarantee that I would get a chance to play the game of football again,” Steer said. “I prayed every single day. I kind of made some promises to God that if he gave me the opportunity to come out and play again, I would take full advantage of it.”
Not wanting to be known as a college dropout, Steer weighed his options. He enrolled in UConn’s West Hartford campus for a semester and then was accepted to attend classes at UConn’s main campus.
The passion for football never waned for the former East Hartford High School star and when he heard that Randy Edsall was coming back to coach the Huskies, he reached out to see if he could try to restart his football career.
“I came here last year in July starting out as a walk-on and Coach Edsall said if I worked hard and did the things I could do, there could be some things that I could earn,” Steer said. “I just came in, worked my tail off and just found out what it was like to be a UConn Husky. I found out real quickly what it was like. We have a motto: it is earned not given. I tapped into that really quickly and realized that anything I was going to get, I was going to work extremely hard for.”
Steer was a regular at the Rentschler Field games during Edsall’s first stint at UConn. Now he is less than a month away from being able to run onto the field with his fellow UConn players.
“It is so crazy,” Steer said. “I used to go to the games — Kendall Reyes is a guy I looked up to growing up; he was my mentor — and it is just amazing. Rentschler is like the backyard for me.”
Last week Steer, running back Donevin O’Reilly and receiver Mason Donaldson were all given scholarships by Edsall.
“He’s been through a lot personally and for him to succeed in a goal that he has had, you are very proud of a young man like that. We are here to support him, help him,” Edsall said. “He has worked his tail off to earn the opportunity he did. When guys do that, you are really proud of them.”
Reaction from former walk-ons receiving scholarships never gets old. For Steer, it had even more meaning.
“My family life is rebuilding,” Steer said. “I’ve been through some trials and tribulations and it is a rebuilding process. My dad moved to Virginia when I was about 14 years old. I chose to move in with a family, stayed with them for some time and after that it has kind of been wherever I have gone to school I’ve been able to stay, so you can imagine the scholarship is essential for me to be able to continue to do what I am doing and having everything taken care of is truly a blessing.
“The game of football, you get knocked down. I’ve had my fair share of knockdowns in my lifetime and to be able to get back up is something that motivates me. You know your story is great when you look back and it motivates you.”