Note: The following appears in the Wake Forest gameday football program. To purchase a copy of the program while supplies last, send a check for $7 to Clemson Athletic Communications; P.O. Box 31; Clemson, SC 29633 with your return address.
Ryan Carter should not be in his current position. At least, that is what the odds dictate, as well as the numerous doubters who have fueled Carter’s fire over the years.
At 5’9,” and 180 pounds, Carter certainly falls under the category of undersized for a starting cornerback at a major program. However, as his present-day starting spot indicates, he has overcome his physical limitations through a relentless perseverance and an undying dedication to the game of football, making the most of the opportunities that he has been presented.
“The biggest thing for me was telling myself that I could do it,” recalled Carter when explaining his journey to the top of the depth chart. “Looking back on my freshman season, I didn’t really know where I fit in or if I actually belonged.”
Progressing from an oft-underappreciated recruit to the lynchpin of the Clemson secondary, Carter has exceeded expectations and then some en route to becoming a veteran leader for the Tiger defense, proving his doubters wrong at every turn.
Prior to taking on a significant role for the Tigers last year, when Carter first became a regular starter, he made a name for himself as the hard-nosed, jack-of-all-trades defensive back who manned the secondary for the Tigers in any and all capacities. From boundary cornerback to nickel cornerback and even safety, Carter, the former No. 31 cornerback (same as his uniform number) in the nation in high school, embodied the very essence of the Tigers’ competitive spirit.
Having his hard work and dedication come to fruition when he received a starting nod in the 2015 Orange Bowl, Carter’s fondest football memory, the fiery defensive back from Grayson, Ga., used that pivotal opportunity to become one of the defense’s most reliable cogs. Although Carter may not receive the level of attention that he rightfully deserves, he would not have it any other way, as the drive to make something of himself through personal motivation and nothing more is what has gotten Carter this far.
“I knew the only way I was ever going to get on the field was through putting in hard work at practice and trying to make plays,” stated Carter when speaking on his approach to the game early on in his Clemson career. “The name of the game is the guy who’s going to be able to play is the guy who makes plays.”
Accumulating 29 tackles, including 5.5 tackles for loss, seven pass breakups and one interception in the 2016 season, Carter was arguably the most consistent presence in the secondary, providing lockdown coverage from start to finish of each game, never taking a snap off.
A spark plug on the field, Carter has adopted that approach on the gridiron through sheer self-will, as his unwavering commitment on the practice field has showcased itself through his gameplay, thereby establishing Carter as a mentor for the youngsters in Clemson’s secondary.
“One thing that I try to do is bring it every day during practice,” explained Carter. “So when the younger players look at me, they see a guy who is constantly working and constantly pushing himself in practice.”
A leader by example, Carter is mature well beyond his years with his calm, poised demeanor standing in stark contrast to his strident, electrifying style of play on the gridiron. Those respectable efforts to better both himself and the team on and off of field earned Carter a rather noteworthy commendation at the end of last season in the form of the prestigious Iron Man Award, a Clemson football honor reserved for a player who dedicates the utmost commitment to the sport.
“It was big for me because it took a lot to settle into that new role last year as a full-time starter. So it meant a lot to me at the end of the season to receive that award, and it’s definitely something that’ll stick with me for the rest of my life.”
Never one to grow complacent, Carter has used his highly successful 2016 campaign to further his successes on the defensive side of the ball this fall. Working alongside cornerbacks coach Mike Reed as well as safeties coach Mickey Conn, Carter is using the tutelage from his coaches over the years to embrace his newfound role in a somewhat young Tiger secondary.
While in high school, Carter excelled as both a defensive back and wide receiver, helping lead Grayson High School to a 15-0 record during his junior season. Mentored by the aforementioned Conn, who was Grayson High School’s head coach at the time, Carter is grateful to once again have the opportunity to learn under the man who had such a significant hand in shaping Carter into the player he is today.
“The impact that he has had on me is huge because he really helped to develop me in high school into the type of player that I now am,” said Carter about Conn. “I have the utmost respect for him.”
Respect is certainly something that Carter does not take lightly, as his entire body of work during his four years at Clemson has culminated in the graduate defensive back boasting a remarkable amount of respect from coaches and teammates alike because of his dedication to his craft.
“I’ve only focused on what I can control and not what I can’t control,” said Carter. “So I try to keep the details in order and never overlook the little things.”
Paying close attention to detail, among many other positive habits, is what has enabled Carter to overcome the limitations presented by his intangibles throughout his long, fruitful journey to starting for the defending national champions. Inspired simply by the desire to make his parents, coaches and other important figures in his life proud, the sociology degreeholder is a picture-perfect example of what college athletics is all about.
“I want people to remember me as a guy who worked for everything,” said Carter with a smile. “I’m thankful for being granted the opportunity to play for Clemson, and I like to think that I’ve worked hard to take advantage of that opportunity.”
Exhausting the opportunity at every turn, Carter is aiming to reach All-ACC status through his play this season, as his ultimate dream of playing in the NFL still holds true. The odds might not stand in Carter’s favor as he passionately pursues his dream, but based on Carter’s football story up to this point, it probably would not seem right if they were.
In Carter’s mind, part of the drive and motivation that pushes him stems from his desire to overachieve, and no matter the cost, Carter will continue to prove that he is indeed worthy of attention, respect and praise. But he will never be the one to say that he is deserving of them.
After all, for Carter, a football player is only as good as his performance dictates, and by way of a relentless quest to better himself on the field each and every day, Carter continues to let his play do all the talking for him.
And so far, it has spoken volumes.
March 14, 2019