Over the past few years, Denver fans have had to look hard to find things to really cheer about on the Broncos. The media has long stood by the abiding principle that if it bleeds, it leads, and that’s led to seemingly endless negative stories about this player and that one, people who make the news by creating negative incidents. One such problem of Denver’s was shipped to Miami in exchange for a couple of second-round picks, and has been little mourned by Broncos fans. Tim Tebow has been both praised and trashed for his desire to share his religion with others. Then there’s Quinton Carter.
If you’re a Broncos fan, you’ve already heard the basics: While still in college, Carter decided to use the platform of his considerable ‘Q’ - his name recognition - and started a non-profit organization called SOUL - which stands for Serving Others through Unity and Leadership. The 501(c)3 non-profit organization he founded, based in both Carter’s hometown of Las Vegas and in Norman, where he attended the University of Oklahoma, works with inner city youths from the ages of 11 to 14 to provide them with football camp training that gives the youths a chance to see the value of teamwork and sportsmanship. That’s laudable, but Carter takes it a long step further than most programs by adding classroom work and lectures about decision-making, nutrition and the value of education.
Many of the players who start football camps and programs come from difficult backgrounds themselves - single-parent homes, drug-riddled neighborhoods, gangs and violence. Those things were around Quinton, too. In many of those cases, sports was the one thing that kept some of those youths out of the barbarous cycle of the inner city. Carter was different. He was raised by parents who had a loving, stable marriage and who weren’t shy about keeping their children's noses to the grindstone. Their focus on proper behavior and education has been described as ‘relentless’, and their son had a natural aptitude for giving.
Quinton was born on July 20, 1988 in Las Vegas. As a child, he was the kid who always remembered every family member’s birthday. If one of his siblings (he’s the middle of three children) forgot to buy a present, Quinton wrote all three names on the gift so it was ‘from’ all of them. As the children grew older, they would bring home friends and teammates that were going through hard times, and the family would welcome them. Carter’s father, Clemon, and mother Sandra had grown up in poverty, but never really felt poor. As my great aunt Pearl used to say, there’s poor and then there’s ‘po’: the older Carters may have grown up poor, but they weren’t ‘po’ - they got by just fine. They lived in Las Vegas during boom years and did well for themselves. Since the Carter family had enough to go around, the friends of their children would always find a helping hand extended. Quinton didn’t need any more encouragement than that. He was already noticing that many of his friends and teammates didn’t have two parents at home, much less two who were sober, supportive, and hardworking role models.
He attended Cheyenne High School and played football under head coach Dave Snyder. He competed at quarterback as well as safety, learning the game from both sides. By his senior year, Rivals.com ranked him as the third-best athlete in Nevada. Quinton earned All-League honors in 2004, throwing for over 650 yards with eight touchdowns, adding over 400 yards on the ground. It didn’t stop there - he was also one of the state’s elite basketball players, and was named to the Las Vegas Sun’s All-Decade team. The hours of study that were required to earn him the right to play sports (particularly football) had substantial results - Carter graduated from Cheyenne High School a semester early, and enrolled at the University of Oklahoma in January 2006.
Given his natural bent towards helping others, Carter quickly contacted his athletic department’s outreach program. He liked the work, but felt that it didn’t quite go as far as he wanted to. It did give him a chance to meet former OU track star and current non-profit manager Cecil Rose who was finishing his Ph.D in non-profit management; Rose, too, had an influence on Quinton. As a sophomore, Carter launched a program called Gaining Ground, which worked with a branch of the United Way to provide housing for low-income families. It still wasn’t enough for Quinton. Carter and Cecil Rose developed a Father’s Day event for the fathers of disadvantaged families who were working hard at giving their children good homes as a way of thanking and congratulating them. They did some polite arm-twisting and got an Oklahoma Hills clothing store to donate custom-fitted suits for the fathers, and two local restaurants to donate lunch for the men.
"It's rare to have fathers in their children's lives nowadays," Carter said. "It's an appreciation thing. That'll be annual as well."
For some of the kids without fathers, Carter stepped in to mentor them himself. He had five such young men that he helped out in Oklahoma - taking them bowling or to swimming, or let them hang out with his teammates and himself. That, too, still wasn’t enough - which prompted Carter to found SOUL in 2008. He’s developed a laundry list of current and upcoming projects for his non-profit, including establishing a funded medical practice in Las Vegas that will offer physicals, mammograms and other basic medical services to low-income citizens. If leadership is a priority with the new version of the Denver Broncos, they scored on this draft pick.
"Not only is it a dream come true,” said Quinton, “but I'm in a position to help others. I'm going to take advantage of my position. There are young guys who have no dreams." Carter graduated with a double major of criminology and sociology, as well as a minor in non-profit management. Quinton was also the winner of the Wooden Citizenship Cup, which is given to one athlete for the highest display of character and for making a difference in the lives of others. No surprises there.
Did I mention that he also plays football? Carter took over at free safety to start his redshirt junior season with OU (he took the 2007 year off to deal with a hamstring issue, which hasn’t returned, and he also dealt with a knee surgery that hasn’t been a further issue either). Then, over the next two seasons, Carter provided 185 tackles and eight interceptions as the QB of the defense. In 2009 alone, he had 88 tackles with five passes defensed and four picks. In 2010 that rose to 97 tackles, six PD and four INT. While his measured straight-line speed is only adequate, his football IQ lets him take good angles to the ball, giving him excellent coverage results, even on deep routes. He’s not quite as talented at man coverage right now, but that may come with time - certainly, dedication won’t be an issue. At 6’1” and 208 lb, he’s also physically sturdy and very dependable. Carter made First Team All-American by AFCA, AP and Sports Illustrated, All-Big 12 first team by coaches and second team by AP in 2010 (yes, the AP named Carter a first teamer nationally but a second teamer within his own conference). His on-field leadership matched that off the field. When asked where he finds the time for all of it, he replied, “I don’t play video games.” Small wonder.
At the Combine, Carter turned in a somewhat mixed performance. He had a solid 10'1" (121 inches) broad jump. His 40 time was slower than anticipated by many, with an average of 4.59 seconds. Most NFL teams were expecting better, and that’s a big reason that he dropped to the fourth round. While I understand the concerns with his speed, it doesn’t show with pads on. The 40 doesn’t measure the ability to change directions at nearly full speed, which Carter excels at, and it doesn’t show the closing burst that Carter exhibits on film. He had a 4.06 short shuttle, a 7.05 three-cone drill and benched the 225 bar 23 times, more than double the 11 reps put up by fellow rookie safety Rahim Moore - whether at SS or FS, he’s a powerful safety who uses that strength when he tackles.
He’s built well, with a physique that NFLDraft.Rivals.com describes as ‘very shredded’ and ‘layered with muscle’. That shows in his tackling - Carter has a lot of pop when he hits. Some sites list him as a strong safety at the next level, while others believe that he’s best left at FS. He has the quickness to be a two-deep safety, plays zone very well and has shown considerable skill as a blitzer due to his timing and burst. He has the skill set to perform as a nickelback as well as playing SS, FS and special teams, and playing in the short area near the LOS lets his abilities in tackling and blitzing to come out. For those who are interested, Carter also boasts a 31.5-inch arm length, 9.25-inch hands and a 76.75-inch wingspan. He’s got soft hands and reads the quarterback’s eyes well.
His listed negatives usually revolve around playing and tackling too high - to be fair, that shows in his backpedal as well as in his hitting. When he missed, it’s often because he went for a ‘highlight film’ tackle rather than using good form. The same has been true of his coverage work - he will sometimes go for the INT when he could have a definite PD instead. You walk a fine line there - INTs are great and they can take the wind out of an offense, but stopping play after play can wear down an offense just as effectively. These are anything but uncommon mistakes, especially from a younger player, and can usually be corrected with proper coaching. Ron Milus, who has made a career out of teaching players the defensive secondary, will be coaching Quinton. Although a veteran of college coaching, Milus started his NFL coaching career with Denver when he coached their secondary back in 2000-2002, and has continued to coach defensive backs around the league - first with Arizona, then the NY Giants, the St. Louis Rams and most recently the Carolina Panthers, over 2009-10.
I’m always interested in how players handle themselves in big games. It’s not a flawless correlation, but it’s generally been my experience that while you don’t want to judge a player on a single game, the guys who make it in the NFL often have their top performances on a national stage. Carter started at FS in the 2009 Sun Bowl against Stanford and came up with an INT and eight tackles. His work during that Sun Bowl was top drawer and he came back to OU in 2010 to have a highly productive season.
Vince Lombardi used to talk about the power of love in the NFL locker room. I know that it’s not a common topic among fans, but Lombardi would regale listeners with examples of the kind of unusual mutual caring that separated his Championship and Super Bowl teams from those of other years. Character is a very real aspect of the pro game, and that may become even more important as the discipline required of defensive players to avoid penalties is ever on the increase.
As the Broncos' brain trust has been mentioning frequently, that discipline has to be balanced with a whole lot of mean in every phase of the game. Carter is a solid prospect when viewed from that perspective: he’s shown both. Prior to Combine he was often discussed as a late first-, possible early second-round pick. He didn’t run as fast as expected at Combine, and afterward he was usually ranked as a 2nd- or 3rd-round pick. When Denver got him at pick 11 of the fourth round (108th overall), they got a player who has the potential to be a steal for the cost. Early in 2010, he was considered by many draft observers to be the top safety in the country. His lack of timed speed cost him, but his performances on film, as well as the leadership role that he played at Oklahoma suggest to me that what you do when the ball is snapped can mean a lot more than when you’re running in shorts and a singlet.
You can also bet that SOUL will be opening a Denver office, and that Carter will be giving back to his new adopted community as much as he has up until now in Nevada and Oklahoma. He’s a rare combination of a man who is naturally giving, yet one who likes to give out hits, hammers and tackles. Welcome to the Mile High City, Quinton. I hope that your stay is long and profitable.