The call that would destroy the spirit of any son was made to Navy plebe Paul Carothers on a Friday in November 2016 after the Midshipmen varsity had left the academy for its next football game, at East Carolina.
His mother broke the devastating news: Patrick Carothers, a U.S. Marshal for 26 years and father to Paul and his four siblings, had been shot and killed while serving a fugitive warrant in a rural area of southeastern Georgia.
“My faith was faltering in some regards,” Carothers recalled last week, “but that’s what saved me, honestly.”
This is why, even though Carothers didn’t start a game at linebacker for Navy until this, his senior season, he is so highly respected by his teammates. He was elected one of the team’s four captains for 2019, and words such as “inspirational,” “passionate,” and “positive” are used to describe him.
Once he recovered from the initial shock of losing his father, who was 53, in such a sudden, violent way, the native of Flowery Branch, Ga., answered the challenge to his faith and who he was.
“I’m better for it honestly because it really showed me some faults in my character, in myself, that made me better,” he said. “But I found that through my faith and through my maturity, it’s grown throughout the years that Jesus gives me joy in every situation, and in situations our human minds cannot comprehend.
“So with that, I have joy every day and I’m privileged to have had the time I did with my father. He was a wonderful man and this world was better because of him, and I truly believe that in a way that he just treated our friends and those he didn’t know.”
Carothers said he has forgiven the gunman, who was fatally shot by the team accompanying his father to serve the warrant.
“Obviously, it broke our hearts,” he said, “and something like that changes your life and what you think about on a daily basis and when something so quickly had been taken from you. However, I understand exactly why he was taken and why the guy made the decision he did to have a disregard for life.
“I’ve forgiven that gentleman and understood that people are flawed and they fall short of doing their best of being the best I can. That happens. He just could have been having a rough week. There could have been things built up in his life and nobody showed him kindness or love or concern.”
Carothers will be commissioned as a Marine Corps officer upon graduation. His grandfather, James Carothers, spent 36 years in the Marines and served in World War II as well as the Korean and Vietnam wars. He has two older brothers who graduated from the Naval Academy and a younger sister who is attending the Naval Academy Prep School.
Carothers, who was promoted to the varsity for the 2016 Army-Navy game three weeks after his father’s death, played mostly on special teams as a sophomore and a junior. His first career start, in the fourth game of 2019 against Air Force, resulted in a career-high 12 tackles. He is second on the team with 8 ½ tackles for loss and four sacks.
Navy enters Saturday’s game against Army at Lincoln Financial Field seeking to end a three-game losing streak to the Black Knights. Carothers said a chance of an 0-4 sweep for the Midshipmen seniors isn’t in his thoughts.
“I don’t fear that or concern myself with those thoughts,” he said. “When Dec. 14 comes, it’ll just be a brawl. Historically, whoever makes the most mistakes and whoever doesn’t do their jobs is going to lose.”