Freshman fights jitters to help U beat Syracuse

Michael Rand

Tyrone Carter was a little nervous.
The Gophers freshman, who averaged three touchdowns per game as a high school senior in Pompano Beach, Fla., was preparing for his first start as a college player and the most important contest for his school in a long time.
Thanks to ESPN2, the game would be broadcast throughout the nation during primetime. Included in that mass spectrum of watchers: His parents — Sarah and Tony — and his grandmother Mamie.
Carter, a second-team strong safety, stepped onto the field as a special teams player, and Minnesota kicker Adam Bailey put toe to leather on the game’s opening kickoff. A few steps here, a couple more there. Run hard, run fast.
Wham!
Syracuse returnman Jim Turner was picking himself off the Metrodome turf.
The crowd was immediately energized.
And Carter wasn’t nervous anymore.
“I came in a little nervous because my parents were watching on TV,” he said. “But I just got in on the kickoff and hit somebody. Deep down I know I’m a little guy, but I try to play big.”
It’s probably a good thing the 5-foot-9, 172-pound Carter shook off the cobwebs early. His playing time increased as the first half went on. He delivered big hits and recovered a second-quarter fumble.
But the best for Carter and the Gophers was yet to come. With Minnesota trailing 12-7 in the third quarter, Carter scooped up a fumble and ran 63 yards for a touchdown.
What happened on Syracuse’s next possession, however, is what changed Carter’s evening from special to extraordinary.
“Touchdown Tyrone,” as he is dubbed in Minnesota’s media guide, grabbed another Syracuse fumble. Several off-balance steps and 20 yards later, he was in the end zone again.
“Rishon (Early) and Rodney (Heath) pushed me up and I caught my balance,” Carter said. “I’ve never had a night like this. After that second touchdown I was like, `Oh my god.'”
Yet in this era when defensemen break into elaborate dance routines after four-yard rushing plays, the freshman went calmly about his business.
Following an end-zone interception earlier in the game, the Gophers were flagged for excessive celebration.
There were no penalties after either of Carter’s scores. Only minutes later in the fourth quarter he was walking off the field, visibly upset with himself after bobbling a Syracuse kickoff and being forced to settle for a touchback.
He wasn’t satisfied with his performance in the third quarter; there was still work to be done.
That humility — seen less and less in younger players — was instilled by Carter’s grandmother.
As a seven-year old, Tyrone Carter, his older brother and his three younger sisters went to live with Mamie Carter. The children’s parents were having marital problems at the time.
“I had a lot of adversity in my life when I was young,” Carter said. “You always want your mom and dad around, so it was tough.”
Without his grandmother, it’s difficult to say where Carter would be now.
“She started teaching me the values of life,” he said.
But no one had to explain the value of Carter’s touchdowns to the Gophers on Saturday night.
“That was a stellar performance by a defensive back,” said junior free safety Crawford Jordan. “He’s always had the potential for this. There are certain people who are just great play-makers.”
Carter continued to make big plays throughout the night. On the next kickoff after the one he bobbled, he gave the Gophers good field position with a 33-yard return. Minnesota netted a field goal from that possession, which, in turn, set up the team’s winning score.
“We had to turn it up a level to turn around the losing tradition,” Carter said. “(Gophers defensive coordinator) Tim Rose always says to do whatever it takes to win.”
If Carter continues to make plays like he did against Syracuse, opposing players will be the ones with pre-game jitters.