Catching Up Cardinal: Kerry Carter - Part I
It's not often the life of a professional football player parallels that of a poet, philanthropist and entrepreneur. But for former Stanford running back Kerry Carter, it's all part of the plan.
Born in Port of Spain, the capital of the island country Trinidad and Tobago, Carter was raised in a large family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and brothers.
"Family was big for us," said Carter, reminiscing on his youth in Trinidad. "Being surrounded and encouraged by a lot of people you love always helps. Having my family around all the time was a big thing for me."
Trinidad and Tobago is the wealthiest of independent Caribbean countries and the standard of living is lofty. While life in Trinidad was good, urgent matters in another country began to pave a path that would eventually lead Carter to California.
At the age of seven, Carter's mother relocated to Canada to attend to her father who was battling cancer, leaving him and two younger brothers with the family. After she secured a job as a nurse two years later, Carter and his brothers joined her in America's northerly neighbor.
"We became citizens a couple years after coming to Toronto," said Carter. "Trinidad will always be my first home, but Toronto is where I grew up so I would definitely consider Canada to be my home base."
Carter spent his adolescence in Etobicoke, a city north of Toronto, Ontario, where he attended Father Henry Carr High School and excelled in football, basketball, volleyball and track. It wasn't until the 10th grade that Carter's coach began to urge him to pursue football at a higher level.
"Coming from Canada, we had to be a little bit more proactive," Carter said. "I remember putting together a letter with some of my stats and sending it out to about 100 schools. We got some responses and some teams were asking for my highlight tape. That just got the ball rolling."
Despite playing in only one game his senior season because of a teacher's strike, Carter was in high demand and did not receive a shortage of offers.
"I remember the first recruiting letter I received was from North Texas," stated Carter. "I was talking to the coach and one of the first questions he asked was, 'You're not white are you?' It kind of made me laugh, but I guess it was something he had to ask. When I told him 'no' he said, 'Well, we're probably not going to be able to get you after other teams see you.'"
Carter was handed scholarships to perennial powerhouses like Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin and a slew of other schools. Being in close proximity to the Northeast, Carter watched a lot of Big Ten football and was intrigued by the hard-nosed, run-heavy style of play.
But Carter, who won the 1997-98 Henry Jerome Award as the top student-athlete in all of Canada, also drew the attention of Cardinal head coach Ty Willingham. After receiving an offer from Stanford, many people pushed him to explore the West Coast option.
"I was very much into my academics so decided to take a good look at Stanford," he said. "Once a few of my teachers heard that I had an offer from there they personally came and talked to me about checking it out. My mom was big on Stanford too so I couldn't pass up the opportunity in terms of it being a well-rounded school.
"My mom came on my visit with me and we were taken around by Condoleezza Rice for part of the weekend. They got me out in that California sunshine and it was hard for me not to want to come back."
The scenery and sunshine helped the cause and Stanford still finds the engaging Dr. Rice useful as a recruiting tool. She undoubtedly leaves a strong and lasting impression.
"One of the things she told us was that our decision was a four-year decision. So I felt like I wasn't just coming to Stanford for football," Carter said.
That is the dual-threat doctrine Stanford embodies, and a four-year graduation plan is exactly what this Canadian executed. Carter earned a degree in Cultural and Social Anthropology with an emphasis in Medical Anthropology. Like most Cardinal athletes Carter was an excellent student, and he was just as outstanding on the field.
Carter saw immediate playing time as one of only two true freshman to take the field for the Cardinal in 1999. In that first season he assumed the role of second-string running back, carrying the ball 87 times for 330 yards while leading the team in rushing touchdowns with six. Carter was the only Stanford player to score a touchdown in the Cardinal's painfully narrow 17-9 loss to Wisconsin and its Heisman Trophy-winning running back Ron Dayne in the 2000 Rose Bowl.
Carter's freshman season was but a precursor of more good things to come. Carter would end up leaving a lasting imprint in the Cardinal record book after finishing his collegiate career with 2,039 rushing yards and a remarkable 23 scores on the ground. He twice led the team in rushing and his career touchdown total ranks fourth in Stanford history while his yardage mark is good for eighth on the all-time rushing list.
Carter is also the only Stanford player ever to score four rushing touchdowns twice in a single game. He enjoys holding that distinction and recalls one of the milestones vividly.
"Going into the game I think the coaches wanted to see who was going to step up," Carter said, thinking back to the game against USC in 2001. "They were expecting a lot out of me because I had a great week of practice. Sometimes you have games where things just click, you feel like you are in the zone and no one can tackle you. I got into the red zone and on the goal line that game, and just got hungry."
Carter churned up a career-high 123 rushing yards in that contest, and Stanford pulled off a thrilling 32-30 victory after quarterback Chris Lewis found Jamien McCullum in the corner of the endzone for a last-second walk-off score.
Carter's career as a Cardinal from 1999-2002 was certainly an illustrious one. However, the final chapter of his Stanford story was unexpected, to say the least.
Stay tuned for tomorrow's Part II to hear how Carter experienced life, on and off the field, in the post-Willingham era.
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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