Friday, April 12, 2024

From the Magazine: Beyond the End Zone

Florida Atlantic University’s (FAU) football team landed a legend last year when NFL Hall of Famer Cris Carter was brought on as executive director of player engagement. This nascent program aims to assist young players with any and everything they might face on and off the field, and there are precious few in the world who might be more attuned to the player experience than Carter.

Athletics became the center of Carter’s world at an early age. As one of seven children raised by a young mother with no father at home, Carter learned early on that sports would be his only avenue to an education. “My mom let me know that,” says Carter. “She said, ‘there’s a system out there and it’s called athletics, and it’ll pay for your education if you’re good enough.’”

Carter took his mother’s words to heart with a level of conviction during childhood that many can’t muster over a lifetime. “When I grew up, sports was in me,” says Carter. “Every book that I read was about one of my heroes. Everything that I wanted to see was about athletics.” At age 12 he recalls regularly breaking into his local high school football stadium to train. Wearing a 25-pound weighted vest, he would perform leaps, bounds and sprints, a dogged regimen that would often end with him getting busted by the school janitor. “He called me every word and ran me off every day … but there was something about going there that I just wanted to do,” says Carter. Now, that stadium in Middletown, Ohio, is named after him.

Carter’s persistence, ambition and dedication landed him a scholarship at Ohio State University (one of many offers he received), where in his freshman year he broke a Rose Bowl record for receptions and yards. Carter held OSU’s school record for receptions by the time he was recruited to the NFL, where he continued to break records and cement his legacy as one of the great receivers in league history during his 16-year career. Carter says that being a player in the NFL is the “rarest of the rare,” with only 25,000 men having competed in the league in its century-plus history. In 2013, Carter joined an even more rarified group when he was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, one of only 300 men to be given the honor.

Following his retirement in 2002, Carter never strayed far from the game, serving as host and analyst on several sports programs, and eventually joining the NFL’s player engagement programs, where he assisted retired players with the daunting question of what comes after football. “All athletes in all sports struggle, because what is the next move?” says Carter. At FAU, he says that they’re accelerating that question, asking players at an early age to consider their post-retirement plans.

“We are trying to train them that one day they’re going to take the air out of this football,” says Carter. “You’re not going to be able to play this game forever.” To answer the question of what comes next, Carter believes in a tailor-made approach for each student. “We don’t start off with ‘they’re all going to be this,’ says Carter. “We actually get it down to specifically you, at your best, what does it look like? And then that’s the goal.”

Carter’s emphasis on preparation, more than natural talent or good fortune, has arguably been what’s defined his success on the gridiron and in life. “You have more fortune if you prepare. If you don’t prepare, what’s going to happen to you? Anything,” he says. “The best athletes get themselves ready for the next move.” And for Carter, helping these young players prepare for their lives is paying back the investments that were made in him.

“I’ve been mentored the whole way. From my first little league coach to my high school coach, people have gone out of their way to make sure that Cris Carter reached his potential,” he says. “It’s what I owe the game, because the game developed me.”

This article is from the March 2024 issue of Boca magazine. For more like this, click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Tyler Childress
Tyler Childress
Tyler is the Web Editor and a contributing writer for Boca Raton magazine. He writes about food, entertainment and issues affecting South Florida. Send story tips to tyler@bocamag.com.

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