FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When it comes to undersized players on an NFL roster, the Patriots seem to have cornered the market. Receiver Wes Welker and running back Danny Woodhead are two of the smaller players coming up big, and now cornerback Tony Carter is part of the mix.
At 5-foot-9, 175 pounds, Carter spent the first 14 weeks of the season on the Patriots' practice squad before his promotion to the roster on Dec. 18. He played in the final three regular-season games, mostly on the punt coverage and punt return teams.
Carter entered the NFL last year as a rookie free agent out of Florida State, signing with the Denver Broncos. He spent most of his rookie season on the Broncos’ practice squad, appeared in two games late in the season, and then was waived at the final roster cutdown Sept. 5, 2010. He hooked on with the Patriots’ practice squad two days later.
The 24-year-old Carter, who can also be followed on Twitter (@tonycarter904), shares his football journey with ESPNBoston.com:
When he first started playing football: “I was 7 when I first played with pads and I haven’t missed a season since. I had always played in the neighborhood with my brothers and friends.”
Why he first started playing: “To stay out of trouble, pretty much. It was something to do. My grandmother and mother said I had a lot of energy when I was younger, so they signed me up for football. I liked it.”
First positions: “I was a linebacker my first season. I wore No. 88. I was just fast, making a lot of tackles. The year after that, I switched to quarterback. I played offense and defense all the way up to college.”
Favorite teams and players growing up: “I didn’t really have a favorite team. I wasn’t a team guy but I had favorite players. I was a Jerry Rice fan; he caught touchdowns and I love to catch touchdowns. I liked Emmitt Smith, as well. My dad would always talk about Emmitt Smith because my dad is from the Pensacola, Florida area, so I grew up a fan of his. And Barry Sanders because he was small and no one could touch him. I used to try to do all his moves.”
Top memories of high school football in Jacksonville, Fla.: “That’s tough because there were a lot of good memories. My freshman year, I went to Englewood High School. My sophomore year, I transferred to Mandarin High School. So probably my junior year, playing against Englewood and my old friends, that was a top memory. I ran a punt return back.”
Thoughts when the NFL came to Jacksonville in 1995 with the creation of the Jaguars: “It made my dreams more of a reality because I got to see some of those players and got a chance to go to some of those games. Just being around the city with a professional team, it made me realize, 'You can do it.' I was on a Pop Warner team the year they came to Jacksonville -- it was probably the best team I was ever on; we went undefeated, unscored upon -- and the Jaguars invited us to a game for winning the city championship. I said. 'That’s where I want to be some day.'"
Why he chose to attend Florida State: “The tradition. And how could you tell Bobby Bowden no? I said that when I was coming out of high school. You also had [defensive coordinator] Mickey Andrews. My dad had played basketball at Florida State, so I grew up a Seminole fan. I looked other places -- Tennessee was at the top of my list and I considered Southern Cal for a little bit -- but in my heart, I knew where I wanted to go.”
Top memories at Florida State: “Just playing under Coach Bowden every day, being under a legend like that. You can take it for granted being around people of that magnitude. We had those Friday night meetings and he would talk to us about life, not football. That’s probably the biggest thing I take from Florida State.”
His experience on draft day, with no team picking him: “It was probably the worst day of my life. It was very depressing. I can honestly say I expected to get drafted. I started every year in college, had made a lot of plays, done some good things. But now I have a chip on my shoulder. It makes the journey all worth it.”
Why he chose to sign with the Broncos as a free agent: “I just felt like it was a good opportunity. I had a couple of other options but I felt like that one was the best. New coaches were coming in, so it was kind of like a fresh thing. They showed high interest in me, calling me all draft, and I thought I’d get drafted by them. I said, ‘Why not go give it a chance?’ I had a chance to play under some good guys -- Brian Dawkins, Champ Bailey. I figured, ‘Why not learn from the best while I’m here?’
Being released and landing with the Patriots’ practice squad: “I’m not sure exactly what happened. Maybe it was a numbers game, I don’t know, but I ended up in a better place. I can’t complain. I came here the first week of the season and it’s been unreal, honestly. Just the work, preparation. You hear about New England all around the league but you never really know until you’re here. I’m just glad to have the opportunity to be here. I like the way we do things around here and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Thoughts on getting promoted to the roster: “I was excited, happy, realized that this opportunity doesn’t come that often. I just told myself, ‘Make the best of it and try to contribute in any way possible to help this team reach our goals.’ It’s a good experience being out there with the guys. It’s a lot different than practice squad because, obviously, you’re preparing to play. I’m enjoying it so far.”
Being a Florida guy in the New England region: “I like it. It’s a lot different. This is my first time living in the Northeast. A little cooler but it’s part of the game. I haven’t been out much in the area but it’s a nice city and the whole area is nice. The people up here support Patriots football like I’ve never seen.”
Succeeding as a smaller player: “I’ve been small all my life. It may be new to others but I’ve always worked hard to find ways to get the job done. I know my strengths and weaknesses and I’m trying to build on my strengths and eliminate some of those weaknesses.”
Summing up his football journey: “I can honestly say it’s been all fun. I never had a season where it wasn’t fun. Some of my friends stopped in high school but I’m still holding on. I’ve met a lot of people, got a chance to be under some great coaches. It’s a dream come true to be playing from a young age until now.”