Oct. 25, 2012
By Bryan Beasley
STANFORD, Calif. - Making adjustments upon arrival to college football is certainly not an easy challenge. Freshmen find themselves learning a massive playbook and system, playing alongside a new group of teammates, contributing to the team even for a play here and there - all while tackling the academic rigors of their first college classes.
Freshman cornerback Alex Carter has embraced this challenge and looks to make increasing contributions for the Cardinal defense. Whether on defense or special teams, Carter is a special talent that has the potential at a youthful age to impact the course of a football game.
The 6-foot, 200-pound cornerback boasts a smooth, laid-back demeanor to accompany his tremendously gifted athletic abilities. Just a year ago, he was a highly touted four-star recruit by Scout, Rivals and ESPN, and ranked as the fourth-best safety prospect in the nation.
Today, Carter has worked hard to put himself in a position to seize the opportunity for extensive playing time. He recently made his first career start on defense last week against California, playing right-side cornerback.
"It's been pretty good so far," says Carter. "You have your highs and your lows, but I'm just trying to work at it and keep getting better. I trained really hard in the off-season and a lot of it was a gift from God. I just want to take it and keep working."
Carter's hometown is Ashburn, Va., and he showed off his athletic prowess at Briar Woods High School earning an abundance of accolades. He led the Falcons to the 2011 Virginia AA state title as a senior, held All-American honors from U.S. Army, Parade and PrepStar, and was named the Gatorade State Player of the Year and Class AA Defensive Player of the Year.
That's only part of the story.
Carter competed for Briar Woods in track and field his junior year running the 100-meter dash, 4x100 and the long jump. He competed at the state meets and his fastest time in the 100 was 10.9 seconds.
Carter continues to impress with his speed and he has lit up the stopwatches to catch Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football David Shaw's eye along with his athletic versatility. The Cardinal players continue to attract the attention of many NFL scouts and Shaw knows these are NFL caliber numbers you don't see every day, especially from a freshman.
"We did the initial testing with the freshmen and he's under 10 percent body fat, he vertical jumps 40 [inches], he broad jumps 10 feet, and runs in the 4.4 range. And you say, `Wow, he's 17'," says Shaw. "Those are NFL Combine numbers, so we knew that he was going to be able to do something special for us."
Versatility makes this young man special. At Briar Woods, Carter took two kickoffs to the house his junior year and three his senior year. He also racked up over 1,000 yards all-purpose yards as a senior. Carter has returned kickoffs at Stanford this fall to supplement his role as a cornerback.
The Virginia native had Stanford on his radar at a young age and knew everything the university had to offer outside of the gridiron. His father, Tom Carter, played football as a cornerback for Notre Dame and also played in the NFL. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly offered a scholarship to Carter, but he was swayed away from his father's alma mater for a different reason.
"Too cold," says Carter. "I actually knew I wanted to go to Stanford in middle school. I sat down with my parents one day and we were talking about schools I wanted to go to, and I said I wanted to go to school somewhere warm.
"My dad went to Notre Dame, so he would always talk about the top schools that had academics and athletics, and Stanford was always in the conversations. That's how I knew about it."
This created a rather interesting situation when the Cardinal played the Irish in South Bend earlier this season. As his family sat up in the press box, it appeared to Carter that they had a bit more allegiance to Notre Dame. That didn't bother him too much.
"My entire family actually came and they wore Notre Dame stuff," laughs Carter. "My mom wore Stanford, but my dad and my sisters came in their Notre Dame jackets and hats. I was just like, `Alright, that's cool.'"
He doesn't plan on shifting his college-bound sister's interest to Stanford.
"My sisters? Can't," jokes Carter. "The older one loves Notre Dame. The younger one loves Oregon. She likes their swag, their style, their uniform and all the gear."
The overtime loss at Notre Dame was certainly a tough one for the team, but Carter had a chance to shine, registering four tackles (one for a loss) and his first career forced fumble. The non-complacent freshman still understands that there is a long way to go to become an elite Pac-12 defensive back.
"I need to work on my strength a little bit and my agility," says Carter. "You can always find things to improve on, so speed, strength, everything. I'm only at the beginning right now, so I keep on trying to push myself to see how much I can get better."
Shaw was pleased with Carter's first start and intends for him to start this week against Washington State.
"He played very well," says Shaw. "I think he's a guy that when he came in, we truly believed that he was going to be special."
But what has impressed the Cardinal coach even more is Carter's ability to make all the adjustments a cornerback needs to make.
"Corner is such a unique position," says Shaw. "There's so much feel that goes with playing corner. Feeling the quarterback's drop, feeling the receiver's route, being able to see combinations and still play man-to-man. He's picked it up extremely well and will probably get his second start this week."
Defensive coordinator Derek Mason admires the freshman's work ethic, skill and attention to detail and knows his game can only continue to improve.
"Alex, right now, is getting better every day he touches the grass," says Mason. "He works hard, very conscious, very skilled. You're looking at Alex Carter and you're looking at a really good football player who has a chance to do something special with his teammates if he continues to grow and can work in the capacity that he's working in right now."
Carter believes Mason has this defense headed in the right direction with some tough tests ahead the rest of the season.
"He's great," says Carter. "I really like Coach Mason and I trust him. I trust in his ability to help this team and help us get better each and every day."
When this rising star makes his second start Saturday in a Pac-12 North showdown with Washington State, Carter will look to bring some swag of his own to the Cardinal secondary.