Vernon Carey honored as Dolphins' Man of the Year

DAVIE - When Dolphins right tackle Vernon Carey was asked to report to the auditorium at team headquarters on his day off today, he was nervous. No, he wasn't expecting to get cut, but he was hoping that the meeting would have something to do with extending his contract, which expires at the end of the season.

It wasn't until coach Tony Sparano grabbed a microphone and introduced Carey as the Dolphins nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award that the Miami native knew what was going on.

Carey has a tough act to follow as former Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor won the community-related award last year, and past Dolphins winners include Hall of Famers Dan Marino and Dwight Stephenson.

"It caught me off guard,'' Carey said. "I was kind of worried at first, but it's an overwhelming joy deep inside because growing up as a kid always being a Dolphins fans, loving the Dolphins, I remember watching Dan Marino play the game and guys like him being man of the year. Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas, those caliber of players on and off the field, it's high standards set that you got to uphold, and I'm willing to do that.''
Every team selects a representative, a player who gives back to the community with his charitable endeavors, as well as displaying sportsmanship on the field. Eventually, the 32 selections are pared down and one player is chosen during Super Bowl week in February.

Carey and his wife, LaTavia, have started the Carey Mentorship Program at Brownsville Middle School in Miami. The couple mentors 10 students and takes them on trips around South Florida, such as Universal Studio, and often talk to them about goal-setting. They also host 20 students at every Dolphins' home game.

Carey hosts an annual Thanksgiving giveaway at his former high school, Miami Northwestern, and participates in several Dolphins-related charities.

"After my first two years, I'm like, 'You're from here and have to do more in the community.' I was obligated to myself because I've been where they're at and want to show them that there's more out there for them, and goals for them to reach.''

Carey, who starred at University of Miami and was drafted No. 19 n the first round in 2004 by his hometown team, is an integral part of the Dolphins' eighth-ranked offense, which has amassed more than 340 yards in each of the last eight games.

The children from Carey's mentorship program gave Carey a standing ovation when he was given the award. The softspoken, often shy Carey cracked a joke at the end of his acceptance speech when he said, "I hope I can still do things for the community of Miami and I hope I'm still here.''

"I was hoping it was a new contract,'' Carey said. "That's a big honor and you got to accept that and be very happy with that. It was a couple of words [contract talks] but that's what I know. They know better than I do.''

Sparano, a fellow offensive lineman and line coach, was extremely proud of one of his own.

"It's a tremendous accomplishment with what he does in the community,'' Sparano said. "I've been out on several occasions with Vernon at groups in the theatre and seen him do these things for the kids. That's something special. What these guys do off the field really does matter and I'm glad he's getting recognized.

"You could see the kid's faces in there when they see Vernon come in. That's something pretty special. You don't see that all the time. You're a parent and you see your kid like that, he lights up, she lights up. That happened when he walked in.''

Although Sparano wasn't expected to answer football-related questions, he was asked if he heard Carey's remark about wanting to remain a Dolphin.

"So do I,'' Sparano said while walking away.