Catching Up Cardinal: Kerry Carter - Part II
At the end of Part I, we paused as Tyrone Willingham departed Stanford's pastures and palms for the golden domes and grottos of Notre Dame.
After seven years as Stanford's head football coach, Tyrone "The Sheriff of " Willingham decided to accept a high-profile job in South Bend. After giving consideration to a surprisingly short list of successor candidates, Stanford's Athletic Director at the time, Ted Leland. chose to hire a relatively unknown head man in Florida Gator assistant Eugene "Buddy" Teevens.
Stanford Football went from a dominating 9-3 season with a Seattle Bowl appearance in 2001 to a disappointing 2-9 campaign in 2002. Carter attests that no one specifically was to blame for the unforeseen state of his final season, arguing that the team's struggles arose primarily from the sudden transition in personnel and scheme.
"I think we had one of the best rushing attacks in the conference so I went into my senior season with high expectations," he said. "The new coaching staff wanted to be a big passing team [aka "Buddy Ball"] and that wasn't the strength of the Cardinal at that time. We suffered as a team and that is something that can hurt your draft status as well."
As Carter wrapped up his productive tenure on The Farm, NFL scouts certainly had taken notice of one of the most prolific backs in the Pac-10. But a lackluster final year from a team standpoint might have caused Carter to sift through the cracks of every round in the 2003 NFL Draft.
Although Carter's name wasn't selected, it wasn't long before his phone rang with an offer.
The Seattle Seahawks signed Carter as an undrafted free agent early in 2003. Many undrafted free agents become tackling dummies during training camp, but Seattle provided him with a legitimate opportunity to come in and prove himself worthy of a roster spot.
"At that point I felt like I really had nothing to lose so I just put everything into my training and preparation," stated Carter. "That was probably one of the most fun experiences in my life because I didn't have to think about academics, it was just football and that was easier for me."
Carter secured his spot on the roster and played two seasons with the Seahawks. He was used primarily as a kickoff return man, and helped Seattle win an NFC West division crown in 2004. That season, he returned 21 kicks for 448 yards and his average (21.8 ypr) ranked in the league's Top 30.
"I was able to stick around there for a couple of years and make a name for myself even though I didn't get a lot of publicity playing behind Shaun Alexander," Carter said. "But I was able to make it to a place where 95 percent of guys that play football don't get to."
Carter was released by Seattle in September of 2005, but the Washington Redskins plucked him off the free agent wire in January of 2006.
"I was having a really good camp. I was just running the ball on a regular run play, made a cut and ended up tearing my knee," Carter recalled.
His MCL and ACL were shredded. One month later, Carter traveled to Birmingham, Alabama and visited one of the most renowned surgeons in orthopedic sports medicine, Dr. James Andrews, where he underwent surgery to repair his knee.
"It was a pretty devastating injury for me because I had never had anything like that before," he said. "So I spent that year rehabbing and contemplating what to do with my situation. Everything is happening so fast in the NFL because everything is football, football, football. So this gave me a new perspective and allowed me to focus on what else I wanted to do in my life."
And this is where Carter began to reach the lives of so many others.
During his time at Stanford, Carter made it a high priority to give back to the community. He would tutor and mentor children as a part of the Menlo Park-based Center for a New Generation program which had been founded in 1991 by Susan Ford and Condi Rice and was operated through the Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula. While in Seattle, Carter served as a youth ambassador in the Starlight Foundation which grants wishes to disease-stricken children.
These experiences and the time away from football allowed Carter, a self-described "Student of Life", to reach a major goal in one of the areas of activity he cherishes most.
"I love working with kids, I love teaching them," he said. "So I started my Think Big Foundation and used that as kind of my way of giving back. We've run programs in the form of academics, athletics, arts and hospital visits."
Think Big is a non-profit organization founded by Carter in 2004. The initiative behind his foundation is to create a learning environment where young people can take an active role in defining their future.
"I'm trying to make the world a better place, starting with myself, and hopefully one kid out there sees me as a guidepost and is able to accomplish something with his or her life," he said. "The true lesson that I want to show the young people is that no matter what your current situation, your surroundings, your upbringing, the negative experiences, the unfair advantages, you are still the master of your fate."
Those interested in learning more or making donations to assist Carter's worthwhile effort are encouraged to visit www.thinkbigfoundation.org.
Carter also has his sights set on writing a children's book. If he accomplished that feat, Carter would double his list as a published author....although you won't be able to find a copy of his first book in the children's section.
Carter's unique book of seductive poetry, Fiery Scenes of Seduction, isn't as graphic as the title might suggest. Targeting women, the publication encourages couples to work on their relationships by improving upon interactions. The book is written from a man's point of view and emphasizes that even though feelings may go unsaid, they are present.
Sadly, the "Spoken Word Poet" Carter experienced a bittersweet ending to the publishing process. The day the book went out for delivery, the publisher, Lakeisha Tanksley-Simpson, passed away after complications from cancer.
"Her family told me that putting this book together had been keeping her going for the last couple of months, but it came as a huge shock to me," Carter stated. "The entire process was just never the same. I didn't lose my motivation, but putting the book out there without her just didn't feel right."
Carter's book was published in 2006 and is available on Amazon.com. The cover art can be viewed at www.utourpublishing.com/Bookcovers/fieryscenes.jpg.
Another endeavor Carter tackled outside the realm of football was a company partnership with a former Stanford teammate. Coy Wire, who played running back and linebacker for the Cardinal from 1998-2001 and currently suits up for the Atlanta Falcons, launched an apparel line in 2004 called Most High Clothing.
The creed of the upstart clothing line is to motivate and inspire. Wearing these garments, it is said, exudes positivity and allows the person donning the clothing to explore their own identity.
Most High Clothing production has been put on hold for the time being, but Carter assured that it will be back on the line soon.
"The status on that is to be continued," he said. "Neither of us had any knowledge of the industry when we first started and with something like that you have to be immersed in it. There are some things in the works and I can't release too much information about that right now, but there will be something happening with that business probably in early 2010."
After four years at Stanford, three years in the NFL, the creation of a children's foundation, a published book and a business venture, Carter is back in Canada playing football again.
The Canadian Football League is comprised of eight professional teams, and Carter is a fullback for the Montreal Alouettes. An 18-game regular season schedule culminates with a postseason and the Grey Cup - the CFL's version of the Super Bowl. In the 2008 championship game, Carter and the Alouettes were defeated by the Calgary Stampeders 22-14.
"We are going into this season with high expectations," Carter said in regards to the 2009 season outlook. "Everybody's role will be more defined this season and we had one of the most potent offenses in the league last year in terms of points per game and yards. In this league, if you have a good offense you have a chance so we feel we can really do some special things."
Carter admits coming back from his injury wasn't easy. Like many players who suffer damage to the knee, the working components recover over time but the constant fear of re-injury is an obstacle.
"It took awhile to get passed the mental aspect of it," Carter admitted. "Physically it was fine after a year, but mentally it was about getting the confidence back and being able to train. It's been kind of a transition with positions as well as getting healthy and confident on my knee so hopefully this year I will get a lot more slot stuff."
The knee injury did not force Carter to move from running back to fullback. He chalks that up to the "Canadian running back curse".
"When natives return to Canada they turn all the running backs into fullbacks," said the 6-2, 242-pound Carter. "They do that because the CFL is more of a passing league with a spread offense. The backs are smaller scat backs, and they turn the bigger backs into fullbacks. It's not much of a blocking back like in the NFL, but more of an H-back where you run routes and get out of the backfield.
Even while Carter remains busy with football and other ambitions, he still follows Stanford football and likes the direction the program is heading.
"I've seen the ups and downs, and the urgency of having to build the program back up to what it was," he said. "I met Coach Harbaugh in Seattle back when he was first hired and I loved his energy. I really hope he is able to do some good things out there with recruiting and bring back the standard of football that we're used to."
After the CFL season Carter hopes to travel back to Stanford and meet some of the players, including one of his finest successors.
"I've heard that he is something special," Carter said, referring to the Cardinal's sensational senior tailback Toby Gerhart. "I definitely give him my full support and hope he has a great season."
Carter has encountered a myriad of life-altering experiences during the last decade, but his most meaningful came earlier this year.
Carter and his wife, Jessica, were married in Mexico this past January. The newlyweds met while Carter was playing in Seattle and had been dating since 2005. Jessica is a professional hair stylist and a part-time model.
"Actually it was kind of a last minute thing," Carter said of the wedding plans, not the engagement. "We had a trip coming up in Cabo San Lucas so we both decided to go ahead and do it down there. We wanted the marriage more than the wedding, and we are both very laid back so this was perfect for us."
The wedding party was small, but Carter was able to persuade an old teammate to join in the ceremony and celebration.
"I called up Chris (Lewis) because I knew he was in California, and I asked him if he wanted to come down to Cabo and be a witness at my wedding," said Carter. "It was a pretty quick and easy answer for him. We made it more of a vacation with a wedding built in so everyone had a good time."
The life of 29-year old Kerry Carter may seem like a vacation to some, but it has been a productive journey. He has blessed the lives of so many, and one can only assume he has much more to give.
About the Author: Scott Cooley is a seasoned sports writer who was groomed as a reporter for ESPN.com, and he most recently served as the media relations manager for the San Jose SaberCats arena football team. He earned a Business and Economics degree from Hendrix College where he also played baseball. Cooley has a passion for producing sports content, and his writing evokes thought into the minds of his readers with a witty and entertaining style. He is a freelance writer who has been published on multiple media platforms and is always looking for additional opportunities. Cooley and his wife, Christina, reside in Palo Alto where she is pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry at Stanford. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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