'AC' set for final season

In a day and age where college football coaches often have to "recruit" their own players after the end of the season to keep them from making an early jump to the NFL draft, it is refreshing to see a player with pro-level talent but also a true old fashioned desire to complete his tour of duty with the school that he signed with as a high school senior.

Not long ago, while Maurice Clarett was making national news by suing the NFL to allow him to jump into the NFL draft after his freshman year, another young man, Antonio Carter, was quietly applying to the NCAA for one more year of college eligibility.

The second-leading receiver on the Alabama team his junior year, Carter sustained a leg injury that took him from the practice field to the operating table. When he tried to return, that same troublesome injury flared up again and once again dashed his hopes of playing his final year for the Crimson Tide.

The return of a healthy Antonio Carter would be a huge boost for next year's young Tide receiving corps.

However, when this young man returned to the Capstone from Christmas break this year, Carter received a present that had not been wrapped up under the tree. The NCAA had granted ‘AC' Carter a sixth year of college eligibility due to complications in recovering from the original injury.

Now Carter is feeling good and ready for action.

"(Quitting football) has to cross your mind when you have injury trouble like I had," Carter said. "But quitting wouldn't have helped Alabama, and that's all I'm about: helping Alabama."

Given the events of recent years, it now seems eons ago. But the last time AC Carter took the field in his crimson No. 2 jersey was the 2001 Independence Bowl, where he capped off a year where he grabbed 32 passes for 428 yards and a touchdown. Add this to his 294 kickoff and punt return yards, and it is obvious that Carter's presence on the field for his senior season would be a definite plus in terms of offensive and special teams production.

Yet it is the unseen attributes of a player like Carter that can't be measured until they are no longer in uniform. Carter's combination of maturity and enthusiasm make him one of the leaders of the squad.

"I just want to be able to go out there again and do what I do," Carter explained. "And what I do is lead."

Anyone that has ever observed a Tide practice can attest to Carter's leadership ability. Even when sidelined by injury, the Tallahassee native could be counted on to be an upbeat and vocal field general, always ready to cheer on his offense and encourage the younger players.

Carter claws for the extra yard (AllSports photo)

However, Carter is quick to point out that this aspect of his leadership ability is not the most important.

"You can talk all you want, but that doesn't do much good," was how he put it. "You lead the best when you are going out there and doing what you are supposed to do. You lead by making plays."

Now that the NCAA has granted Carter a sixth year, he can once again set his sights to bringing that playmaking ability back between the hash marks at Bryant-Denny Stadium, where it can be most effective. As Carter said, an injured player can only provide so many words to his teammates. There comes a point where he must go out and lead by example.

Hopefully, next season will also give NFL scouts another opportunity to view the speedster as he demonstrates his ability to make the tough catches and get the ball down the field.

"It is my dream to get to the next level," Carter acknowledged. "But I'm not even concentrating on that at this point. I am concentrating on helping Alabama win.

"If I would have given up on playing here, that wouldn't have helped Alabama win."

The road back to the top of the Alabama receiving charts won't be easy for Carter. Two years of rust will have to be shaken off, and he will be competing with some good young talent that Alabama has acquired (and is continuing to acquire) for its receiving corps.

Carter has become sort of an "elder statesman" on the Tide squad.

Although he is now clearly the elder statesman of the group, Carter insists that his role on the team is really no different from before.

He commented, "Nothing has changed, as far as my role on the team. Like I said, I just do what I do. Go out there, make the plays, and try to provide leadership for my teammates."

NOTE: Though his rehab is going well, Carter's availability for Spring Practice is problematic. Understandably, the Tide coaches are going to take it very slow with him, giving his leg all the time it needs to heal and be ready by fall.

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