BUFORD, Ga. -- While more than 250 college prospects were vying for a coveted invite to The Opening at the Atlanta NFTC at Buford High School on Saturday, linebacker Reggie Carter (Snellville, South Gwinnett) had a much more modest goal. He just wanted to return to the football field and compete.
Thursday marked the eight-month anniversary of the injury that cost Carter his junior season. On August 19, on the first defensive play of the second quarter, in the first game of the season, Carter "stepped wrong" and tore the ACL in his right knee. A rising star in Georgia, Carter had picked up 11 offers in his sophomore year from top programs like Alabama, Michigan and Miami. As he lay on the field Carter says all he could think about was "how I had let down my team."
Months of rehab followed, and a few weeks ago Carter was cleared by his doctor to return to the gridiron. The Nike camp bore witness to that return today as Carter, wearing a knee brace as a precautionary measure, trotted onto the field to face some of the top players in the nation.
"There was no pain, not really," Carter said. "It was just more of a mental thing. Pass rush was the hardest thing, just sticking it in the ground. My mind was telling me he didn't want to do it, but my body was saying try it. That's crazy. The easiest thing today was zone coverage, dropping back into the zone, and the pass skel was easy."
Carter was all smiles at the conclusion of the camp but admits he still has some trepidation.
"There is a lot of stuff I can work on," Carter said. "I am a little heavy on my feet. I have to gain my confidence in my knee. This is the biggest part. I was a little scared on pass rush but it was all mental. People tell me it will take some time."
The 6-foot-1, 225-pound linebacker moved well, and coaches in attendance commented on how fluid he looked. With such a talent-laden camp, Carter quickly found someone willing to put him to the test.
"Fernando Van Hook (Memphis, Tenn./Memphis University) did an amazing job," Carter said. "Both he and Alvin Kamara (Norcross, Ga./Norcross) were amazing. I went against Van Hook numerous times, and he was the man. The first time we went against each other it was a drill called 'chase the monster. He got me, made me sit on my heels. After that I wanted to get him back, so we kept getting after each other. It was a great competition."
While Carter was pleased about his performance at the Nike camp, he knows the first real test will come in August, when he sees Kamara again.
When asked what he thought the outcome would be, Carter laughed and said, "The best outcome would be holding Kamara under 75 yards."
Carter also looks forward to that game for a number of other reasons.
"The best outcome for me next year would just to get out on the field and prove myself, since I missed last year," Carter said. "People overlooked me because I didn't play last season. Some of those who were recruiting me before didn't talk to me after the injury. It didn't really bother me. I saw it coming. But my dad said, 'Don't worry, because by the end of the season, all of them will be at the door.' Georgia, UCLA and Nebraska did come to me. They put a big smile on my face."
The faith in Carter to return to his previous form paid off for the Bulldogs who received a commitment from the junior on April 9. Before that, Georgia was not in the running.
"No, I wasn't even thinking about Georgia," Carter said. "I mean, living in Georgia you have to watch Georgia, but I wasn't considering them. But then I started talking to the coaches, I visited up there, and it just felt like home."
That feeling prompted a call from Carter to the Georgia coaches.
"I called Coach [Bryan] McClendon and told him I wanted to be a Dawg," Carter said. "Then I spoke to all the coaches, Coach [Mark] Richt, Coach [Todd] Grantham and Coach [Kirk] Olivadotti. It was amazing. All of them were screaming. I was happy, my parents were happy, and my coaches were happy. And then five minutes later I was getting texts from people I didn't even know. Shaq Wiggins (Tyrone, Ga./Sandy Creek) hit me up too, since he recruited me. He is going after everybody."
Wiggins, who has been a very vocal and public recruiter for the Bulldogs, was named the defensive backs MVP at the Nike camp Saturday and promptly received an invitation to The Opening.
Carter, while he did not win an award, walked away just as happy.