Carter Anchoring 'The Darkside' Defense

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- When Maryland middle linebacker Jermaine Carter, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, end Cavon Walker and offensive tackle Derwin Gray were all at Friendship Collegiate Academy (Washington, D.C.) three years ago they bestowed nicknames on the team’s particular units.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- When Maryland middle linebacker Jermaine Carter, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, end Cavon Walker and offensive tackle Derwin Gray were all at Friendship Collegiate Academy (Washington, D.C.) three years ago they bestowed nicknames on the team’s particular units. The defensive backs were the “No Fly Zone,” the offensive line was “The Brick Wall” and so on and so forth.

But the FCA defense as a whole? That nasty unit that featured nationally-touted recruits galore?

“We called ourselves ‘The Darkside,’” said Carter, a 6-foot, 200-pound sophomore. “And we were a dominant defense and shut everybody down. No one moved the ball on us.”

Three years later, Carter decided to unearth the old nickname. Carter broached the idea to fellow defenders Ngakoue and Walker, and the three agreed it would be an apt moniker now that all three would be playing significant roles at Maryland.

“We wanted to pick a nickname for the defense, and since we’re transitioning to a new scheme and a lot of [FCA] guys are contributing now we thought we should bring back The Darkside,” Carter explained. “Last year the defense was “Big Red,” but this year we’re going back to my roots at Friendship. We’re The Darkside – big and mean.”

Carter isn’t especially big at 6-feet, but he’s certainly mean enough. No one’s ever mistaken the now-starting MIKE backer for an alligator-armed cornerback.

“He’s just very aggressive and physical, and he has a very aggressive mentality,” linebacker Jalen Brooks said. “He’s one tough customer and he brings it every day. He’s not someone you want to get hit by [on the field].”

Carter has been flashing that physicality ever since he arrived in College Park. During his true freshman season he was named Scout Team Player of the Week three times, his intensity and preparation earning plenty of praise from head coach Randy Edsall.

Then last year Carter put forth a yeomen’s effort on special teams, racking up 27 tackles and delivering two bone-crunching hits that resulted in fumbles. One of those forced fumbles came in Maryland’s upset against Penn State, Carter’s punch-out setting up a Wes Brown touchdown run.

“I’ve always been a physical player, but it’s just about working to get better every day and helping my team working towards perfection and being the best defense we can be,” said Carter, who mentioned the defense has suffered some lapses the last couple practices and needs to pick up the pace. “My teammates helped me, and I helped them, and that’s how we go about it. Now I’ve got to keep grinding and help all the guys around me even more.”

Indeed. After two years as an understudy to mainstay Cole Farrand, it’s Carter’s turn to anchor the middle of the defense.

How well Carter acclimates himself to the starting role won’t be known until September, but so far the fall camp reports have been relatively positive.

“I feel like the middle linebacker should be the leader of the defense, and Jermaine is taking to it very well,” Ngakoue said. “Cole did a great job there for us, but now Jermaine is going to step right in and do a great job as well. I know what he’s capable of.”

There have been a few miscues along the way, however. Carter admitted he’s missed checks here and there, while he’s still in the process of mastering the 4-3 defense.

“Jermaine is doing a good job. The big thing for Jermaine is just getting back to practicing with the consistency and high level he’s always practiced with,” Edsall said after practice Aug. 14. “I’ve not been disappointed with him, but we just want to keep him stepping it up and elevating his game.”

One area in particular Carter wants to continue developing is becoming more vocal. A steady, quiet presence, Carter isn’t one for words. Even when he was at FCA, Carter preferred to let Ngakoue, Gray and Walker do all the talking.

But that doesn’t mean Carter wasn’t – or isn’t – respected. Ironically enough, he was the leader at FCA, twice dubbed a team captain.

He hasn’t ascended that ladder yet at Maryland, but it wouldn’t shock in the slightest if Carter earns the label at some point.

“Growing up my dad always told me to lead; he would always tell me that I should be the one to take charge and step up and help other guys,” Carter said. “So I try to keep that in mind no matter what. Like, even last year, I was the leader on special teams. And when I was a freshman I was competing on the scout team, helping Cole and the other guys.

“I actually owe Cole a whole lot. In summer workouts, spring workouts, whenever, he was always hustling. Like we’d be running laps and he’d be out in front in the middle of the summer in the heat. He led by example, and that’s what I try to do now.”

Ngakoue can attest to that. Aside from Walker and Gray, no one has been in more huddles, film sessions, practices and team lifts with Carter than the junior defensive end.

“Jermaine has always led by example for as long as I’ve known him,” Ngakoue said. “He never really says much, but he’s always early to meetings, going to class, early to lifting, always watching film.”

Carter said with so many defensive departures from last year, he had to become an authority this season. He acknowledged it hasn’t always been easy, but believes his teammates have readily responded to him.

“If you set a good example guys are going to want to follow you. I don’t think it matters how old you are or what year you are, if you have that personality and mentality, you’ll be respected,” Carter said.

Said Brooks: “Jermaine is a hard-working guy, he gets after it on the field and off, and he’s someone to look up to. He was kind of the voice of the younger guys coming into college, and now he’s stepping into even more of a leadership role with him starting.”

But when the lights come on Sept. 5, Carter knows the work he’s put in will be for naught if he doesn’t readily replace Farrand. He doesn’t feel any added pressure as Maryland’s new MIKE, however, because he’s confident in the defense; the scheme; and, most importantly, his teammates.

“As a defense we trust each other and feed off each other,” Carter said. “We don’t set individual goals or feel we have to do things alone. But as a base unit, together, we have a goal to dominate. I feel like if we play together, play fast and physical like we know how, we can definitely [dominate] this year.”

They’d better. Otherwise, they’ll be looking for a new nickname.

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