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August 19, 2010Forgive NC State redshirt sophomore tight end Mario Carter if he can't wait for the season opener against Western Carolina on Sept. 4.
Playing in the season opener would mean he made it through August healthy.
The 6-foot-4, 256-pound Carter suffered a season-ending knee injury in mid-August of his senior season at Charlotte (N.C.) Independence in 2007. Carter was back on track after a rigorous rehab, and redshirted his freshman season at NC State.
Carter finally returned to the field and excelled, catching six passes for 68 yards in the Kay Yow Spring Game on April 18, 2009. Disaster struck again in August, when he suffered another season-ending knee injury during a scrimmage.
Carter again went through the rehabilitation process - and no it isn't much easier the second time around - is back on the practice field for the Wolfpack.
"The month of August means a lot to me because it gives me a chance to get work in and back to action from a devastating [injury]," Carter said. "It's a great chance get back on this field because I love this game. I can't wait to play this game again."
Coming back from two ACL injuries has been incredibly hard for Carter. His faith in God has helped him pull through the tough times.
"You have to do extra work every day and come in for extra treatment and all that," Carter said. "It took hard work to get back.
"I learned a lot of stuff going through the treatment. It was the same guy [doctor] who did Steve Smith [of the Carolina Panthers], and it helped me when I went home."
Carter understandably still has some rust and is rounding back into playing shape. He weighs 262 pounds and would like to get down to 255.
"Everybody needs to work on something, and I still have a lot of things to work on, and I want to work on them now," Carter said. [NCSU tight ends coach Jim Bridge] is teaching me on my blocking. I have to execute the block. At tight end, you must block first, and when you get that done, the routes come second to become a great tight end."
Carter watched NC State play from the stands for home games, or watch on TV in his dorm room for road contests.
"It was very tough watching the games," Carter said. "I cried mostly every day. I didn't even like coming to practice because it hurt so bad to not be able to help my team when they were struggling. Sometimes, I just turned the channel because it was so hard."
Carter's last scheduled healthy game was his junior year at Independence. He caught 22 passes for 309 yards and 12 touchdowns his junior season.
Carter still remembers the thrill of playing in the 2009 spring game.
"I have lot of great memories, and caught a lot of balls," Carter said. "I'm trying to get back to that and be even better. I love to go back to old film and study what I had done before, and what I did wrong. I want to do it even better now."
Carter, sophomore Asa Watson and redshirt freshman Anthony Talbert are battling for the second spot when NC State runs a two-tight end offense with reigning All-ACC performer George Bryan, a redshirt junior. Carter calls Bryan a "big brother."
"I know there is a great opportunity for me," Carter said. "I'm trying to execute and get better at blocking. When you are blocking and executing, the defense will think you are running all the time, and that is when you'll get open for a pass."
Carter does admit Watson has an edge on him in one area.
"I think I am moving pretty well, but there are things I still need to work on," Carter said. "I'm trying to get faster than I ever was. Asa Watson is faster than me. When I get my speed right, it's going to be close. All of us are strong though."
Carter has graduated from wondering "Why me?" to "Why not me?" when it comes to being a crucial player for the Wolfpack this season.
"I know I said it [why me?], and I said it a long time ago," Carter said. "The second time, I hung my head. My mother and grandmother told me to 'Pick your head up. This is your year.' I took it and have been smiling and working harder. I want to be back faster and stronger than whatever I was."