Nov. 5, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. -
If you ever want Mario Carter to agree to something, you’d better give him some time.
It’s not that the Wolfpack’s senior tight end is a disagreeable guy, it’s just that sometimes, it takes him a while to warm up to an idea. In fact, some of the decisions that have altered the course of his life were ones that he vehemently disagreed with at first, but later embraced wholeheartedly.
Carter was born in Pittsburgh, and still considers himself a Steel City guy. The youngest son of Harold and Sheila Carter, Mario and his brothers Martel and Maurice called the streets their playground. “My brothers and my cousins and I - we were all very competitive in sports,” he recalls. “We were always trying to beat each other at something - street ball, kick ball, baseball, swimming, football, basketball. We played everything.”
In Carter’s recollection, those were the good old days, when his immediate and extended family provided a ready-made team to play any sport at a moment’s notice. Every one of them were die-hard Steelers fans, because “you have to love the Steelers if you live in Pittsburgh,” Carter laughs. “I always thought I was Jerome Bettis because I was kinda short and fat but I was fast. It was fun to have family all around me.”
Just before he reached middle school, Carter’s mother went to visit a friend who had relocated from Pittsburgh to Charlotte. She immediately decided that the best thing for her family was to move them to North Carolina. “Things were tough in Pittsburgh back then,” he remembers. “Businesses were shutting down and people were struggling. She saw that North Carolina had better opportunities and was a better place to raise kids. Next thing I knew, we were moving.
“I was so mad. All my family was in Pittsburgh and they took us away from all of our cousins who we saw every day and we had to meet new people. All the way up to high school I felt like they had taken my childhood away from me.”
To make matters worse, on the actual move to their new home, the van where most of their personal belongings were stowed caught fire and they lost them all. “We lost our clothes, our bikes, our pictures - we didn’t have anything. I was the last one out of the van and one of my shoes even got burned up, so I came to North Carolina with just one shoe!
“I told my parents, ‘See! We should have stayed!”
Despite moving into a bigger house and, for the first time in his life, having his own room, Carter didn’t take to his new state at first. “It really did take me a while,” he remembers. “But looking back, I know it was a great move for me and my family. If I had stayed up there, my future would’ve been something negative.”
His future in North Carolina was instead a very positive one.
In middle school, he decided to try out for the football team. Still picturing himself as “The Bus,” he obviously thought that he would play running back. “For some reason they put me at center,” he laughs, “and I wasn’t fond of that. Then they moved me to D-tackle, but I thought I should’ve been a linebacker.”
In high school, another life-changing move came for Carter. Again, it was one that he vociferously disagreed with.
“When I was a sophomore at Independence, I was finally playing linebacker and defensive end. The coaches decided to move my teammate Hakeem Nicks from tight end to receiver because they thought that would be a position that was better for him. That left tight end open, so they asked me if I wanted to play there.”
Carter, of course, said no at first. But soon he grudgingly agreed to give the new position a try. The rest, as they say, is history.
“Like always, I ended up doing it,” he says, “and I was a natural.”
That year, he remembers a coach from Boston College, Jim Bridge, coming to recruit some of the older players. Carter’s coach, Tommy Knotts, used that as a motivation for his grumpy tight end. “I thought I was pretty good, but I remember he told me something like, ‘you have no clue and you’re not ready to play on that level.’ He said that to motivate me. He said that he had told the college coaches that I had potential. So my 11th-grade year, I was always in the weight room or running stadium steps or running 100s.”
Carter caught 12 touchdown passes as a junior and was an all-state, all-region and all-conference performer. Obviously the move to tight end was a good one.
In a preseason scrimmage before his senior year, Carter suffered a knee injury and missed the entire season. He was still ranked the ninth-best tight end in the nation by ESPN and ended up committing with Bridge, who was now the tight ends coach at NC State.
After red-shirting his freshman campaign with the Wolfpack in 2008, Carter had an impressive spring and was ready to take college football by storm in 2009. But again in a preseason scrimmage, he tore his ACL and ended up having to sit out another entire season.
“I had really high hopes before that happened,” he said. “So, I was angry. It was another ‘why me?’ kind of thing. But my mom and my dad and my grandma, they always kept it positive. They told me to keep my head up and everything would be okay.”
Carter’s career at NC State never took off at the pace that he wanted it to, but this season, his first as a full-time starter, got off to a strong start when he hauled in five catches versus Tenneseee. He was finally getting the snaps that he always thought he deserved.
But Carter says he still walked around with a chip on his shoulder - until the Florida State game on October 6. During the Wolfpack’s final drive of that upset victory, Carter went out for a pass and got popped by the defender. He lay still on the grass for a minute before slowly being helped off the field. He ended up being diagnosed with a concussion.
“I’m not going to say that I saw God or anything, but something hit me when that happened,” he said. “My whole attitude just changed. I was always angry when I got here - not really angry at anybody, but just angry. After that concussion, I started going to bible study with Sterling [Lucas], Earl [Wolff], C.J. [Wilson], Tobais [Palmer], Coach Ed [Corey Edmond] and D.H. [Horton]. I matured and got closer to God.
“It hit me that everything I did, I was doing for myself. I wasn’t doing things for God. I was worried about the outcome, when it should’ve been about the objective. Now I feel like I’m playing with the purpose of doing it for God and that’s changed everything.”
Now as his college days draw to a close, Carter realizes that some of the decisions he disagreed so vehemently with in the past, have all helped to make his present and his future a bright place. And although he still misses his grandmothers in Pittsburgh, Mary Dent and Ruth Payne, terribly, he has realized that the distance isn’t really too far.
“If I’m mad at the world and I hear my Grandma’s voice, I know everything will be all right.”