Poole brothers ride character, heart, talent to football dreams at Liberty University
There’s been nothing easy about the Poole Brothers’ journeys …
Editors note: This is the second part of a two-part series.
There’s been nothing easy about the Poole brothers’ journeys.
It all started with them arriving at Liberty as preferred walk-on’s, meaning that while they were guaranteed a spot on the Flames’ roster, there would be no guarantee of a scholarship or even playing time. Instead, the two would have to start from scratch and work their ways from the bottom to the top.
It also meant they would have to go through the same grueling two-a-day practices in the smothering August, Central Virginia heat and the same muscle-throbbing workouts as the starters, with only slight chances of making it above the scout team.
In short, they were going from being big fishes in a small pond to small fishes in a very big pond of talented athletes. Not the easiest of transitions to make for a couple of 18-year-olds away from home for the first time.
“It’s rough going from being the man in high school to being an unknown and you’ve got to show the coaches you want to play and can play and never give up,” Carl Sr. said. “I’m proud of them and the way they’ve handled the transition.”
A transition that included several steps and moving parts.
Carlos proved to be one of the most effective shot callers in George Washington history, accounting for over 4,000 total yards of combined offense and 140 career touchdowns (72 passing, 68 rushing). He also led GW to its highest scoring season in program history his junior year at 52.8 points per game. If that’s not eye-popping enough, he also earned a pair of all-state quarterback and Piedmont All-District First Team selections well.
Despite his success under center, Carlos was recruited by Liberty as a wide receiver, meaning he faced a steep transition from the get.
“I don’t really remember the first practice but I can remember it being different because I played quarterback in high school so to transition, it was different,” Carlos said. “Seeing how comfortable they were in the positions they were playing and how uncomfortable I was, it was a real eye-opener.”
He also had to adapt to the speed and trickery of his defensive counterparts.
“The speed of the defensive backs and how quick and shifty they were really threw me,” Carlos said. “I had to work on making my hands a lot faster, I had to learn to be more aggressive, play a little bit angrier.”
Carl will be remembered as one of GW’s most well-rounded players. In his four-year career, the middle linebacker recorded 405 career tackles, 31 sacks and forced 27 fumbles. In addition, he notched two consecutive seasons with triple-digit tackles after recording 120 and 150 his junior and senior years. If that’s not enough, he also rushed for 44 career touchdowns and picked up two Piedmont All-District First Team selections as well.
Like his twin, Carl soon found his previous success meant nothing as he realized he was going up against bigger, faster competition.
“The first thing I really noticed is the linemen, those guys are big, they’re coming out there at 300-plus pounds and they are fast,” Carl said laughing.
There was also one unexpected difference he noticed as well.
While he spent most of his high school career trying to avoid criticism from his coaches, he found himself looking for critiques from his coaches at Liberty.
“College coaches are way more strict but you want the college coaches to be on you, if the college coaches aren’t paying you any mind, then you’re in trouble,” Carl recalled laughing.
No matter the struggles, they had one thing in common: the support of their parents.
Carl Sr. and Sermica have used Carlos and Carl being away from home as a way of proving social media can be used in positive ways and not just for posting unwanted political opinions or click bait stories.
They’ve shown it can be used as a tool to motivate and inspire.
According to Carl Sr., Carlos and Carl’s struggles in adapting to their new situations caused rare moments of doubt in their lives.
“It had gotten down to where they were questioning themselves. If this was what they wanted to do or not. Is this for us? It gets like that, though. College is a different game and sometimes you have to man up,” he said.
Enter Carl Sr. and Sermica and social media.
“We really had to stay in tune with them, make sure they were focused and motivated,” Sermica said. “We had a little group page where were sending motivational quotes and songs to keep their spirits up and keep them going. We wanted them to know they weren’t in it by themselves. If you’re feeling down, discouraged, pick up the phone and call.”
Of course, there were a few occasions where the two had to crack the whip a bit to keep their sons encouraged and on track.
“We gave them a lot of tough love, it wasn’t always peaches and cream,” Sermica said. “We gave them tough love because they had to grow up and be men. They had to start handling their own business and responsibilities because mom and dad weren’t always going to be there.”
In the end, their efforts paid off.
Back in August, Liberty football tweeted a video clip that began with Carl on the phone with Sermica.
“Ma … it happened today, momma,” Carl says. “We got that scholarship baby. We got that scholarship.”
For the next few seconds, all you can hear and see is Sermica yelling hysterically on the other end and Carl walking around laughing, amused at his mother’s reaction and amazed by the news.
Carl had just become one of the rare walk-on collegiate players to earn a full athletic scholarship to Liberty. A far cry from his days on the Flames’ scout team, wondering if he was ever going to earn any playing time.
“I knew that God had sent us here for a reason so I just kept pushing, grinding every day, just praying to God for an opportunity so when I got it, it was a blessing,” Carl said. “I talked to God every day and he answered my prayers.”
The Poole brothers shared a lengthy embrace as the scholarship was awarded. Carl let the tears flow as he became overwhelmed in the significance of his accomplishment, a walk-on receiving a scholarship only one year after arriving at Liberty.
It all started back in August when Carl received a phone call from defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Scott Symons while at the beach with his family.
“I was actually with my mom and dad at the beach and [coach Symons] called me and told me he couldn’t wait to see me perform and we were all excited and it gave me a lot of confidence going in,” Carl said.
Carl took that confidence into the Flames’ preseason training camp where he impressed coaches enough to work his way up the depth chart at middle linebacker before becoming a bona fide back up for senior Anthony Butler, who was in his first season at the program after transferring from Charlotte.
The promotion didn’t come without a little questioning from Symons first, though.
“Camp came this year and coach Symons was asking me a lot of questions going in about the plays and I was answering them,” Carl said. “It felt good answering them when he was asking and I was saying to myself, ‘I’m ready, I’m ready.’”
And he was.
It’s Nov. 14 this year. Western Carolina quarterback Mark Wright steps back and fires a pass midway through the fourth quarter of the Catamounts matchup against Liberty. Carl steps in front of the pass, recording his first collegiate interception.
Carl’s emergence as been one of the most pleasant surprises for the Flames (9–1) this season. He has served as Butler’s backup at middle linebacker for nine of Liberty’s 10 games with the only game missed being because of COVID protocols against Virginia Tech Nov. 7.
He has posted 23 tackles (12 solo), 1.5 tackles for a loss and one sack. Carl turned in a career performance against Western Carolina with the interception, plus a forced fumble and fumble recovery on the same play.
The Flames will look to him for a solid performance when they take on №9 Coastal Carolina (11–0) in Saturday’s Cure Bowl.
As always, Sermica and Carl Sr. will be in attendance in Orlando, cheering both of their sons and the Flames to a second consecutive bowl championship.
“It’s been very inspirational for us to see something that we’ve put so much hard work into pay off,” Sermica said. “It hasn’t been easy but anything good takes a lot of heart and discipline and grunt work so I feel rewarded seeing how they’re doing. It feels good. It’s been an inspiration to sit back and see some of our hard working paying off and coming full circle a bit.”