FORT WORTH, Texas -- More than seven years before Tank Carder became a starting linebacker for TCU, he was lying in a hospital bed wondering whether he'd ever walk again.
Carder was recovering from serious injuries suffered in a car crash at the end of his seventh-grade year, when his mother sat beside him and posed a question she figured her 13-year-old son wouldn't know how to answer.
"I asked him, 'What are you going to do if you can't walk again?' " Marti Carder said. "Without even thinking, he said, 'Well, I guess I'll just have to join the Wheelchair Olympics.' That was just Tank. That was the way he was and still is."
Tank Carder, who now is busy with his No. 8 TCU teammates preparing to go on the road to face No. 16 BYU on Saturday, doesn't recall much from that day. He was headed to a crawfish boil at a friend's place in Sweeny, Texas, and he remembers the car swerving as he sat in the backseat. Carder said he was laughing because he thought his friend's sister, who was driving, was just playing around.
"The only other thing I remember was looking down the road and passing out," Carder said. "I woke up in the hospital."
The car struck a tree, and Carder, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was flung from his seat. He said the car ended up rolling on top of him.
He suffered a punctured diaphragm and a collapsed lung, broke his back in two places and needed two chest tubes.
"Oh, and I broke five or six ribs, too," Carder said.
He was in the hospital for six weeks and needed major work.
"There was a point where we thought we'd lose him," Marti Carder said. "He had massive internal injuries and was on blood thinners for a year. He made it through, but it wasn't easy."
Sports helped Tank Carder heal. He didn't know any other method of treatment. Doctors gave strict orders that he was not to play any contact sports. His parents insisted he stay in the athletic program because they didn't want him to lose his support group of friends. But Carder was miserable sitting on the sidelines. That's when his parents and coaches got the idea that Carder could kick.
"On kickoffs, I would kick, pick up the tee and run off the field," said Carder, who earned the nickname "Tank" because he was a large toddler. He's actually named after his father, Ricky, although no one in his family calls him anything but Tank. "One time, I was kicking an extra point and it was a fumbled snap, so I picked it up and ran it in. The coach was mad at me."
But those who knew Carder best weren't surprised by his bold dash into the end zone. He's craved competition since he was old enough to ride a bike, which, it turns out, was when he was all of 26 months old. He cruised around his neighborhood and caught the attention of a man who owned a BMX dirt track in town. He asked the Carders whether they thought their 4-year-old son might like to ride there sometime.
"He didn't realize Tank was only 2 then," Marti Carder said, chuckling at the thought. "But we took him down there shortly after that, and he took to it right away."
So much so that it became a part of his daily life. He competed in national and international events, and was routinely beating kids two and three years older. When he was 10, Tank Carder traveled all over the country -- his elementary school teacher had a map and put pins in all the places he went -- competing in two BMX divisions. He won an international competition in a small town outside Paris, France, and made a decision.
"I quit," Carder said. "I had seven national titles in the U.S. and won the world championships. I kind of got bored with it. I had to do it all summer and I didn't get to hang out with my friends or play basketball or football. I was ready to try something else."
He played football for one season before the accident and was a running back. When he was finally cleared for full contact in his sophomore season, he played some tight end, running back and quarterback while still kicking. But it was when he switched to linebacker that he really blossomed.
"I didn't even know they had switched me until the first day of two-a-days my junior year and coach told me to go to linebacker," said Carder, who continued to play a variety of positions, including punter and kicker, through his senior year. "That's where I've been since."
TCU was Carder's only solid Division I offer, and he wasted little time accepting coach Gary Patterson's offer when it came a few weeks before signing day. Carder, who backed up linebacker Jason Phillips last season, now is the starting weakside linebacker and an integral part of a young defense that heads to BYU trying to keep its hopes of a BCS bowl game alive. Carder is second on the team in tackles with 36, and has two sacks and a fumble recovery through the first six games.
"Tank is a guy that has turned out to be good at anything he's ever done," Patterson said.
Patterson expects Carder to get only better as he gets more experience. His teammates see a guy who works hard and takes his job seriously.
"Tank has come a long way," defensive end Jerry Hughes said. "He's transitioned into the player we hoped for. He's doing everything that needs to be done. He's in the film room, studying things and learning his position."
His mother isn't surprised by how far her son has come since that horrific car wreck.
"He's always done whatever it takes to reach his goals," Marti Carder said. "I'm his mom, so of course I think he's perfect. But he's a good kid who works hard and wants to get better. And he will."
Richard Durrett covers colleges for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.