Carpenter was on vacation with his family in South Florida when he fell while playing with his son. A cousin, Jamila Smith, told the Baltimore Sun, “They were running to the car when [Carpenter] slipped, fell, hit his head and slipped into a coma. It was just a freak accident. He was always healthy; he went to the doctor, ate well and worked out.”
Listed at 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, Carpenter entered the league in 1999 with the Bills as an undrafted rookie out of Virginia Tech. He played three seasons with Buffalo, playing in 37 games, and starting 22 in his second and third seasons with the team. Buffalo traded Carpenter to Atlanta in 2002.
He spent four years with the Falcons, starting 39 of 46 games. Carpenter missed the entire 2004 season due to a torn ACL, but returned the next year to start 15 games. It would be his final NFL season.
In all, Carpenter played 83 games (61 starts), with 14 interceptions, one of them returned for a touchdown, and 198 total tackles.
A Baltimore native, Carpenter was both the quarterback and star safety at Woodlawn High, known for his 4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash, and was also a standout basketball player.
At Virginia Tech, Carpenter was a special teams phenom, blocking a school-record six punts, his final one coming in his last game with the team, the 1998 Music City Bowl.
In a statement, former Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said of Carpenter, “Cheryl and I were saddened to learn of the passing of Keion Carpenter. Keion was the one of the rocks around which we built our program at Virginia Tech in the 1990s. He was a tenacious punt blocker and a relentless player on defense. More importantly, he had a heart of gold. His work with The Carpenter House and other charitable organizations to help those in need truly embodied the Virginia Tech spirit. Our condolences to Keion’s family on the loss of a great Hokie.”
After retiring from the NFL, Carpenter founded The Carpenter House in Baltimore; according to the foundation’s website, among its goals were “to support the development of healthy homes and environments for low income children to thrive and reach their highest potential for academic success … Our goal is to invest in, build and inspire communities of change.”
One of the programs at The Carpenter House is Shutdown Academy, which combined classroom instruction with football and cheerleading instruction. Carpenter founded Shutdown Academy with Aaron Maybin and Bryant Johnson, two other Baltimore natives who went on to the NFL.
Carpenter is survived by his wife, Tonia, and four children.