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this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; The Saints and all of us can learn from this article. It makes you feel good no matter who you are. What keeps Carter coming back? His obvious love for the game Saints backup, a former top pick, has persevered ...

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Old 11-12-2003, 12:08 PM   #1
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The Saints and all of us.......

The Saints and all of us can learn from this article. It makes you feel good no matter who you are.


What keeps Carter coming back? His obvious love for the game

Saints backup, a former top pick, has persevered through injuries.


Monday November 10, 2003


By Dave Lagarde
Staff writer

They were standing in the tunnel prior to a Saints game this season, although neither man can recall which. Save for that one lapse, the memory is crystal clear in Ki-Jana Carter's mind.

Saints coach Jim Haslett approached Carter, star running back Deuce McAllister's backup, and popped the question.

"Why are you doing this?"

Why was Carter, who had been released by four teams -- the Saints included -- in his checkered, fits-and-starts NFL career, on the Saints' roster?

Why did he display the patience, perseverance and courage necessary to go through the drudgery of working out and staying in shape, just in case a team called to offer a workout on the chance of making a team?

Why did he put himself through the torture -- equal parts physical and mental -- to continually claw his way back into the league?

Why didn't he accept his fate and listen to his brittle body?

Why, why, why, why, why?

Carter smiled at Haslett.

"It's because of this right here Coach," he said, shouting above the roar of the crowd that was revving its throaty engines in anticipation of another NFL regular-season game.

What Carter meant was football and the little things, like the feeling a player gets on game day, like the camaraderie and socialization in the locker room, like the road trips where a player puts on a suit, climbs on a charter, visits another city, wakes up in a hotel room and prepares for battle with his teammates.

Oh how Carter, one of the true kings of NFL pain, missed those things that had become so ingrained in him.

"Those were the things I cherished," he said slowly and thoughtfully. "I feel like it's an honor to play in this league. And I had it taken away from me."

For who knows why?

Terrible luck

Carter owns the kind of muscular, perfectly proportioned body seemingly cut from a block of granite. Only his is more like glass.

But all the Cincinnati Bengals saw was the granite when they looked at Carter, a Penn State sensation who rushed for 1,539 yards and 23 touchdowns in his All-America junior season before declaring for the NFL draft. The Bengals traded up four slots to select Carter No. 1 overall in 1995, making him the first Nittany Lions player to earn that distinction.

Trouble was, Carter never became what the Bengals imagined him to be -- a decisive, game-breaking back who possessed the lethal combination of speed and power to carry the franchise out of the NFL wilderness.

A strange thing happened to Carter on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. He never fulfilled his potential. He spent more time on injured reserve than the playing field. His was a career derailed by frustrating injury after frustrating injury after frustrating injury.

"Ki-Jana was blessed with great physical talent and terrible luck," Bengals general manager Mike Brown said in 1997.

Brown's statement was made after Carter's second NFL injury, this one to his shoulder, which came on the heels of a torn ACL on his third carry in the first exhibition game of his career. Little did the general manager and the back know a frustrating pattern was developing.

More injuries followed -- to his foot, to his ankle, to his psyche. After each one, Carter had to answer relentless questions about his status and defend his offseason conditioning program.

Only a man whose faith runs as deep as the Atlantic and Pacific oceans would find the gumption to come back time and again. Carter happens to be such a man.

"The Good Lord doesn't put you into positions you can't handle," Carter said.

That's why it was so good to see Carter standing in the end zone after burrowing in for a score -- his first since Dec. 30, 2001 and the 21st of his career -- against Atlanta in the Georgia Dome on Oct. 19. It merely was a 1-yard run, but it became a giant leap for at least one member of mankind when it was re-played on ESPN that evening.

"Oh my gosh, I jumped out of my chair when I saw it," said Tony Pusateri, Carter's high school coach at Westerville South outside of Columbus, Ohio, and one of two male mentors who helped shape Carter's life. "I can't tell you how good I felt. Anyone who knows what Ki-Jana has been through wants the guy to make it."

Whatever it takes

Scott Gordon, a high school coach at Whitehall (another Columbus suburb), who took Carter under his wing in Big Brothers/Big Sisters, monitored the Saints' game against Atlanta on the Internet. He swelled with pride when Carter scored.

"Man, that made me feel good," said Gordon, who refers to Carter as his brother whenever the two are introduced to strangers. "It's almost like a second arrival."

The fourth or fifth coming of Carter is more like it.

"I've always known I could play," Carter said. "But for some reason I've had some boulders come my way. The Good Lord doesn't put you in positions you can't handle."

Few could handle Carter's professional setbacks. And to think at one time football had come so easy. The touchdowns, the 100-yard games were matter of fact. Carter averaged 6.3 yards per carry as a Penn State freshman. He bumped it to 6.6 as a sophomore and a phenomenal 7.8 as a junior. His NFL career average per carry -- 3.7 -- is less than half that. His professional total of 1,119 rushing yards is 420 less than he gained as a Penn State junior. He has had exactly one 100-yard rushing day, against Denver in 1997. Two days later he was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff.

Yet Carter still is running thanks to an endless reserve of fortitude. He is willing to do whatever it takes to play the one sport of which he is so enamored.

"This kid came in and said I'll do whatever I've got to do," Haslett said. "He said, 'I'll run down on kicks. I'll play special teams. I'll learn third down.'

"He picked up the offense extremely fast. That tells me he just loves to play the game. He just wants to get back playing something he loves to do."

The kicker is, Carter basically fell into the Saints' lap. Few teams wanted anything to do with former No. 1 selection always mentioned, however unfairly because of his injuries, in the same breath as Ryan Leaf, Tony Mandarich and other Gibraltar-sized draft busts.

"A guy with his running skills should never be out of football," Haslett said. "I think you do get labeled."

The soft-spoken Carter scoffs at the criticism, brushing it aside with a quick wave of his right hand. Those people, he said, are "too quick to judge" an injuries-happen game.

"As long as you're living," he said, "you've got a chance to change (the perceptions)."

And few could fathom his burning desire to revive his career.

Staying ready

Carter found ways to channel whatever frustration and anxiety dogged him during his extensive down time. He threw himself into workouts, structuring them to mimic a typical week in the NFL. He'd go light on Monday and Tuesday, hard on Wednesday and Thursday, light on Friday. He scheduled spinning classes on weekends and always cleared time to watch the games on Sunday.

He was buoyed by what he saw, constantly pumping his self-confidence by telling himself he could match what this back or that back did. It helped him focus on a singular target.

"It told me I could still play," he said. "It made me work that much harder."

Throughout his trials and tribulations, Carter didn't change. He remembers being almost reduced to tears when he came to grips with the news of his first surgery. But that was it. He never complained or whined about what a knee or an ankle or a shoulder was costing him in earning potential.

"God blessed me," Carter said. "Money comes and goes. I've taken care of my mom. I own a home. I'm putting my little brother (Nathan, 23) through college. I don't need $800 million. I don't measure success on how much money I have. I base it on the friendships I've made, the relationships I have."

In that way Carter is loyal to a fault. And he is above and beyond generous.

There are flowers that arrive every Mother's Day for Pusateri's wife Kim, and Gordon's wife Gretchen.

News came last week announcing that Pusateri's daughter, Antoinette, had made her high school basketball team. Carter is rewarding her with a new pair of sneakers. Carter sent Gordon a Father's Day card this year.

"It chokes me up, thinking about it," Gordon said. "He does things like that when you least expect it. Those things brighten all of our days. He is a very caring and thoughtful individual."

There's also the home in Westerville for his mom, Cathy, a beautician who held her single-parent household together. Pusateri and Gordon give her much of the credit for shaping Carter's ideals.

Cathy Carter repays the compliment, saying of Pusateri and Gordon, "They were like hitting the lottery for me."

Cathy Carter swelled with pride when some of the things her son has done for those closest are mentioned.

"That," she said, "comes straight from the heart."

Obviously it's a big one, no matter whether it applies to football or life.
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Old 11-12-2003, 12:13 PM   #2
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The Saints and all of us.......

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