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JOESAM2002 08-09-2003 07:02 PM

Dale Carter article...

Carter keeps it simple in return to field

Saints cornerback and former Vol Dale Carter

Associated Press

Ex-Vol ready to overcome substance abuse battle

NEW ORLEANS — Dale Carter remembers the life he once led. He remembers the expensive cars, the big house, the clothes, the jewelry, the toys.

''If I wanted it, I got it,'' said Carter, a former Vols star. ''Back then I thought material things could make me happy.''

These days life is much simpler. Gone are his Mercedes and Escalade. Carter now drives a 1998 Caprice. The mansion has been replaced with a small condo. And Carter hasn't been near a party in years.

But these days, Carter is playing football again.

Nobody is happier to be in the New Orleans Saints training camp this summer. It's the first time Carter has taken part in the summer sessions since 1999 because of his battle with drugs and alcohol and the resulting suspensions.

''A lot of stuff happened,'' Carter said. ''It seemed like everything went down hill.''

A four-time Pro Bowl selection and 1992 defensive rookie of the year, Carter ran afoul of the league's drug policy and missed the 2000 season. Then, after signing a $28 million contract with the Saints last year, Carter was suspended a week before training camp for a repeat violation.

On top of that, Carter filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy last spring, listing his debts to more than 20 creditors as $4.9 million and his assets as more than $1 million.

''My life could have fallen apart,'' Carter said. ''I'm proud that I've overcome so much.''

The bankruptcy filing gave him a clean start, Carter said. It also taught him about money.

''When you're at the top of the world, there are a lot of people claiming to be your friends and ready to help you spend your money,'' he said. ''You think it will never run out, but it does.''

These days, Carter never sees his paycheck. It goes directly to his brother, former Saints receiver Jake Reed, who handles Carter's finances. Carter gets an allowance.

''I don't need much money,'' Carter said. ''When I was young I used to love material things. Not now. I went to the mall the other day and bought a pair of sneakers. That's the first time I was there in months.''

He goes to an occasional movie. Sometimes he goes out to eat. But mainly, Carter said, he spends his time at home and alone.

''I've gotten to know myself very well,'' Carter said. ''I don't party. I don't drink. I'm working on myself now, trying to be a better person.''

Among the things going well these days is training camp.

Carter returned from suspension for the final seven games last season. But without training camp and 2½ months of daily practice, he didn't look like the cornerback who had once dazzled fans and befuddled opponents.

In seven games, Carter intercepted one pass and broke up nine others. Not very impressive, especially when compared to his first nine seasons with Kansas City, Denver and Minnesota — 23 interceptions and 109 passes defended.

''When you miss training camp, it puts you behind the eight-ball,'' secondary coach Greg Brown said. ''It's a huge disadvantage no matter how good of a player you are.''

Carter, who will be 34 in November, show no signs of slowing down, fellow cornerback Fred Thomas said.

''Dale's out there running around like he's 17,'' Thomas said. ''He doesn't seem to have any rust, mentally or physically. It's very inspirational to see what he went through and how he's come out of it.''

Carter believes he has a few more good seasons left. Enough to let him get rid of the lingering disappointments of the last couple of years.

''I think the year-and-a-half I had off was the best thing that happened to me since I started playing football,'' Carter said. ''It was a hard way to do it, but I finally grew up.''

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