Gabe Carimi doesn't always blow his own horn
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Gabe Carimi doesn't always blow his own horn
In fact, those who know Bears top draft pick best believe one of his best qualities is humility
By Dan Pompei and Chris Hine, Tribune reporters 9:28 p.m. CDT, April 30, 2011
Rubs you the wrong way.
A little defensive.
Good, but not as good as he thinks he is.
A pain in the can.
These are some of the things draft analysts and scouts were saying about Gabe Carimi in the weeks leading up to the NFL draft.
It seems much of the perception stemmed from how boldly Carimi spoke of himself in interviews with NFL teams and the media.
"I'm physically stronger and have more career starts and better knowledge of the game than any other tackle out there," he said at the combine. "That's why I'm the No. 1 tackle out there."
Two months later, he says, "What was I going to say, I don't think I'm the best tackle? I'm going to be the fifth-best tackle?"
The NFL draft told him he was the fifth-best prospect. That is good enough for the Bears, who gladly selected Carimi with their first-round pick at No. 29.
The hope is that he will step into the starting lineup at right tackle and man the position for the next dozen years or so. Carimi might tell you he plans on playing in a string of Pro Bowls and being fitted for a Super Bowl ring on every finger too.
It's true he doesn't lack for confidence, and he will answer your questions honestly. But his actions say a lot more than his words ever could.
His coach at Monona Grove (Wis.) High School, Mike Stassi, remembers a third-round playoff game during Carimi's junior year.
"We were playing him both ways as a D-end and (offensive tackle) and he was sick going into the game, had a bit of the flu," Stassi said. "But he's just getting in a three-point stance … unloading some puke as he didn't want to come out of the game. He just kept playing … he was puking his guts out at the line of scrimmage."
A physical behemoth who measured in as the second-tallest player at the Senior Bowl at 6-foot-7.1 and had the second-longest arms at 35 2/5 inches, Carimi is a lunch pail kind of player.
He is known most for his ability to generate brute force, but Carimi also has decent quickness, coordination and balance. Some of that might be attributable to his years studying karate. Though he hasn't practiced it since 8th grade, he is a second degree black belt.
"He's determined, smart and tough," said Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice, whose son Nate was a teammate of Carimi's at Wisconsin and whose wife, Diane, often tailgated with Carimi's family at Camp Randall Stadium. "He plays hard. He plays with passion."
He reminds Bears Midwest scout Jeff Shiver, who has been with the team for 24 years, of former Bears right tackle Keith Van Horne, a big, tough enforcer for the Super Bowl XX champions.
"He's a team guy," Shiver said. "He'll hold the dummies and he'll carry the pads. And he'll have no problems doing it. It's a legitimate part of his makeup. He has a humble spirit to him."
As dedicated as Carimi is on the field, he also is dedicated in his preparation. Stassi said Carimi's work ethic is a "10" and calls him a "weight room junkie."
The fact Carimi was named a co-captain of the Badgers tells you how coaches and teammates regard him.
His nickname is "The Jewish Hammer," which plays on both his ancestry and his ability to pound opponents. His father, Sanford, is Jewish. His mother, Alayne, is a Jewish convert from Catholicism. Carimi's Italian surname comes from his dad's stepfather.
Carimi's religion is important to him. Before a game against Iowa two years ago, he fasted for 24 hours because of Yom Kippur.
For his bar mitzvah community service project, he spent about five months building a house for Habitat for Humanity. He continued to study his faith after he had met all its requirements.
The Jewish Hammer was perfect for construction because he loves woodworking. In fact, he has built some of his family's furniture, including a bed, an end table, cabinets and a buffet table, which his father says are high-end pieces with bevels, curves and grooves. Building has been a hobby for Carimi since his Lego days.
He was a mechanical engineering major at Wisconsin who posted a 3.0 grade-point average and was All-Academic Big Ten. About what you would figure from someone whose father is an internist and lipidologist.
From 1987 until 1991, Sanford Carimi was stationed at Naval Station Great Lakes, living on the base and serving most of that time heading up the base's department of medicine. In 1988, Gabe was born in Lake Forest.
The family moved to Madison, Wis., and then nearby Cottage Grove as Sanford practiced medicine in Janesville.
That house in Cottage Grove is where Gabe still spends a lot of time. He lived on campus with his sister Hannah, who competed in crew at Wisconsin, and one of his teammates. But when teammates were hanging out and partying on the weekends, Carimi often could be found at the family home.
That is where Gabe and 100 or so of his closest friends watched the draft and learned he would be a Bear. Draped across the garage of that house is a banner that reads, "Congratulations, Gabe Carimi." In the yard is a lit-up cutout of Bucky Badger and a goal post wrapped in decorative lights.
Among those in attendance was Sassi, who often competed against Carimi playing Stratego and partnered with him in croquet.
"Gabe and I are usually the champions," Sassi said. "He's one heck of a croquet player too."
Also at the party were the Schommers, who live down the street. They tell the story of how Carimi once shoveled for them after a snowstorm when they were on vacation and grandma was watching their children.
"Nobody asked him," Jeanne Schommer said. "That's just the kind of guy he is."
Carimi's girlfriend, Kaite Nachreiner, was at the party too. Like a lot of people who know Carimi, she was taken aback at the comments draft experts made about him.
"The whole best tackle thing, I just laugh sometimes because he's never one to talk about himself," Nachreiner said. "He's just not like that. He's just a hard worker. He's a man of few words usually."
The Carimis usually don't put all of their son's awards on display. But they built a shrine of sorts to Gabe for the draft party.
They might want to consider keeping one award on display.
It's the Outland Trophy, and it signifies what Carimi never had to say — that he was the best interior lineman in college football in 2010.
Chris Hine reported from Cottage Grove, Wis.