Michael Carter has 'no regrets' as he tries to overcome past mistakes
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The conversations have been ongoing for years and the message has stayed the same.
Michael Carter seems to have finally understood the point being made.
Since Carter arrived at the University of Minnesota out of Pompano Beach, Fla., in 2009, the shifty cornerback has turned to his cousin, former two-time All-American Gophers defensive back Tyrone Carter, for guidance.
But until last winter, the advice never took hold.
Carter's collegiate career had derailed to a nearly unrecoverable point. Considered one of the top recruits in former coach Tim Brewster's 2009 recruiting class, Carter was wasting his perceived bounty of talent.
The off-field incidents piled up -- a run in with police, missed classes, sub-standard grades.
Nothing changed when Jerry Kill first took over the Gophers football program last season. Carter's maturity remained unchecked and it was reflected in his in-game performance.
Despite showing promise in 12 games as a freshman, Carter rapidly regressed. He appeared in seven games in 2010 and only five as a junior, totaling a combined 33 tackles. Though injuries were a factor, he was distinctly missing the mental wherewithal to stay checked-in.
"His mindset had to be reframed. Coming from high school, being a Parade All-American you think you go to a college and everybody is going to think you're good," Tyrone Carter said. "But you still have to work and you still have to do it on and off the field to play on this level.
"He was getting into a lot of trouble off the field. The mental mindset started to go away, because he wasn't playing as much as he would like. But the reason he wasn't playing was because he wasn't taking care of his business off the field."
Kill had seen enough. He called Carter into his office and unloaded on the soon-to-be senior in brutally honest fashion, giving him the ultimatum that a transformation had to take place or his career would sputter to a close.
"Me and coach Kill had a long talk and he kept it real with me and I kept it real with him," Carter said. "He gave me another shot and I was like, 'What am I going to do with it?'"
Carter began by calling his cousin. Tyrone's refrain had not been altered much, but what he had been trying to get Carter to understand for the last three years started to make sense.
Like Kill, Tyrone didn't hold back during a conversation that lasted several hours.
"I sat down and talked with my cousin for a while and he was like, 'It is time to buy in and mature up. This a game you love and you only get one time to play it. So lock in and let's go,'" Carter said.
Carter pledged that he was determined to salvage what remained of his time with the team, but the Gophers coaching staff viewed the situation with caution. As the Gophers progressed through the offseason, however, their stance softened.
The disinterest and lack of continuity that had haunted Carter's play was noticeably diminished in spring practice. During the team's winter break, he worked out with Tyrone, who retired in 2011 after 11 years in the NFL, and it showed in his conditioning. His grasp of the playbook appeared to be elevated and rarely did he allow himself to be blatantly overmatched or outworked by a receiver.
"When we hit the spring, that's when we looked at it and said, 'OK, let's see. He's got a shot. This is his last shot. What's he going to do with it?'" defensive backs coach Jay Sawvel. "From the first spring practice to the 15th spring practice he strung together a very consistent, good-level of play. We got to the end of spring and felt really good about him going into the summer."
That confidence in Carter showed on the depth chart as he was pegged as one of the Gophers' starting cornerbacks entering fall camp.
Three weeks into practice, his revamped on-field appearance has stayed intact. As a result, he is helping to instill hope that the Gophers secondary can rebound, even if it's slight, from a disastrous 2011 season.
The overworked secondary was near the top of the enormous list of problems that inundated the "U" defense, which allowed 31.7 points per game -- the second-worst mark in the Big Ten behind Indiana (37.3).
While it is still a questionable and unproven portion of the defense, the Gophers placed a major emphasis in the off-season on seeing improvements in the secondary. Derrick Wells and Brock Vereen were moved to safety to allow junior college transfers Martez Shabazz, Briean Boddy and Jeremy Baltazar to add depth at the corners behind Carter and senior Troy Stoudermire.
Carter doesn't have Stoudermire's flat-out speed, but he gives the Gophers an injection of physicality on the edge that partly makes up for it.
But the biggest alteration for Carter has been seen off the field. Since his sit-down with Kill, he has had no reported indiscretions in the classroom or elsewhere as his grades have improved and he is no longer a distraction in team meetings.
"I definitely see the change in Mike," said Stoudermire, who is one of Carter's closest friends. "He's grown up. It's the little stuff that he used to do that he doesn't do anymore. We talk all the time and I can tell from his actions how ready he is."
Whether that is indeed true won't be known until it can be quantified by his in-game performance. Stories of players trying to capitalize on second chances and live up to their potential riddle the preseason talk of teams throughout the country.
"I think he'll have a breakout year, but it's not over just because you had a big impact coming into training camp," Tyrone said. "Everybody is saying these good things about you and you're looking good, but when the season comes you still have to take your game to another level."
Carter doesn't want it to be just talk. He has prevented himself from dwelling on what could be considered a glut of missed opportunities and replace those thoughts with a finishing flourish.
"I'm not being like the old, selfish Mike Carter. I'm buying into the team," he said. "I have no regrets. College goes by fast. I've got my opportunity now and I'm going to focus on this year and this year only."