It was a Friday night over the summer when Anthony (A.C.) Carter asked his brothers Josh, Gabe and Chad if they wanted to do some late-night conditioning. The four collegiate athletes loaded up their car with 45-pound weights, a weight-lifting sled, cones, parachutes and other speed training equipment and headed out to a pitch-black field near their home in Marlboro, Mass.
The four brothers split up into two teams with current Springfield College quarterback Josh Carter teaming up with his brother Chad, who plays lacrosse at Southern New Hampshire, against A.C., a starting linebacker at Bentley, and Gabe, a freshman starting quarterback for Portsmouth Abbey Prep Varsity football.
By the end of the night, the four brothers were left puking on the lightless field after an intense and grueling competition.
“That whole night was mental toughness,” A.C. said. “We put ourselves into a position where we had to figure out how hard we could push each other and how hard we could go until failure. It helped us all reach a new perspective on mental toughness.”
For Josh Carter, mental toughness and a relentless will to succeed have characterized the quarterback’s record-breaking year thus far, as the senior has led the Pride to a 4-2 record by rushing for a career-high 16 rushing touchdowns and 855 yards on 116 carries.
Carter leads all of Division III in scoring with 16.67 points per game. He is also ranked second nationally in “points responsible for” with 150 points, or 25 points per game. He is also ranked ninth in rushing offense with 142.50 yards rushing per game.
In Springfield’s 38-33 victory over Ithaca College last week, Carter ran with demanding authority, game-breaking speed and a powerful burst through the line of scrimmage to lead the Pride to victory. His 224 yards on 15 carries for three touchdowns helped Carter earn this week’s Gold Helmet Award (Division II/III) as bestowed by the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston. He also earned his second Empire 8 offensive player of the week award for his performance, was named the ECAC Division III North Offensive Player of the Week and was named one of six players nationally as a BSN Offensive Player of the Week.
“The biggest thing this year is just the health issue,” Carter said. “I am healthy. That is a huge advantage to have when you’re healthy at midseason.”
It’s a stark contrast compared to last year. The 2011 campaign ended in bitter disappointment with Carter standing on the sideline, battered and benched after suffering a right hamstring injury and two AC joint shoulder sprains that caused the starter to lose his position to freshman Austin Bateman.
By the end of the season, Carter, who rushed for 432 yards and seven touchdowns on just 102 carries, knew what he had to do.
“It hurt in the beginning, but you just have to persevere and step up,” Carter said. “I knew a lot of the coaches probably lost faith in me and didn’t think I had it anymore in me, and I just tried to prove everyone wrong.”
Carter, who had been the starting signal caller since the first game of his freshman year, began a determined, offseason training program to regain his starting position for his senior year.
The Carters each made a list of goals during the brothers’ first weightlifting session of the summer.
At the top of Josh’s list, and the first one he wrote down: Win back his starting position.
“It was the first one for him and it was always in the back of his head,” A.C. said.
Carter, the second oldest of a family of seven, trained six days a week with his brothers doing a combination of lifting, flexibility and speed training in hopes of becoming stronger and healthier to run the Springfield triple-option offense.
“It’s a huge advantage to have my brothers with me to work out,” Carter said. “We’re constantly competing and pushing each other.”
Whenever his older brother Josh would be struggling to finish a sprint or a squat, A.C. was there pushing his brother to the end.
“Whenever we were doing squats or running and we would be huffing and puffing I would keep saying, ‘Starting position, starting job, how bad do you want it?’” A.C. said.
The main thing Carter wanted to work on during the offseason was regaining his health after having to deal with a right hamstring injury basically every year during his time at SC, even during his successful sophomore season when he ran for 966 yards and 15 touchdowns.
“The biggest thing was trying to stay healthy,” Carter said. “I worked on a lot of my flexibility in speed training. It’s been paying off so far.”
Every night this season Carter can be found on the floor of his senior suite with a foam roller and a yoga mat working on maintaining his health. For 20-30 minutes the Applied Exercise Science major, who also interned for 90 hours this summer at Gold’s Gym, works on stretching his major muscle groups.
Fellow roommate and captain James Kikel called Carter “the hardest worker” on the team and remembers talking to his quarterback following last year’s tough injury-plagued season.
“He was banged up all season with the shoulders and it definitely set him back,” Kikel said. “But he never let it stop him. It speaks of the true athlete and person that he is that he was able to bounce back.”
During the offseason Carter also did a lot of footwork training and worked on throwing on the run with quarterback coach Todd Krueger, a member of the 1987 Minnesota Vikings.
Krueger believes Carter, who has been invited to play in this year’s D3 Senior Classic, has the skill set to possibly play in the Canadian Football League.
“If he was taller than six foot he would be a Division I guy,” Krueger said. “He’s got great skill sets and is very athletic. He is a tough kid who is very accurate on the run. Every year he has just really improved and as he improved he got even more confident.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Cerasuolo said Carter came into the year in the best shape of his collegiate career.
“What drives Josh is himself to be the best he can possibly be,” Cerasuolo said. “That’s what he strove for this offseason, and not that he hadn’t done it in the past, but he really built up his body to be able to handle the demand of the position.”
“Without a doubt, year in and year out he has continued to improve his conditioning, his stamina and his overall strength,” Cerasuolo added.
Behind the statistics though, Carter has developed into one of the Pride’s strongest senior leaders. Whenever his team needs a critical first down, a game-changing play or words of wisdom the quarterback has been there for his teammates.
“He has as much respect on the team as anyone,” Kikel said about Carter not being named a captain for this season. “I respect him more than anyone on this team personally, and in my eyes he is one of the leaders and one of the captains.”
“The biggest thing for me is the four people that got captain never once rubbed it in to me,” Carter said. “They are all my best friends and I just stayed positive.”
Kikel believes it was just another motivation tool for Carter in the offseason.
“That definitely is a chip on anyone’s shoulder,” Kikel added. “Being a three-year starter like he was and not getting captain his senior year is tough, but it really speaks of the person he is that he didn’t let it affect him this offseason and it’s showing on the field.”
Cerasuolo has witnessed Carter display his extensive knowledge of the SC playbook this season with a series of different players lining up in the backfield. This leadership has been pivotal for the Pride’s offensive success, which ranks No. 1 in the nation in rushing (388 ypg).
“He understands everybody is responsible for leadership within this program and he is a part of it,” Cerasuolo said. “His leadership at times is vocal, at times is emotion and at times is by example.”
Three years ago Carter stepped onto the Springfield College campus with the tough challenge of taking over the starting quarterback position from SC legend Chris Sharpe, a Division III National Player of the Year and Springfield College all-time rushing leader.
Carter even remembers during his second game of his career against Union hearing fans in the Townhouses chanting, “We want Sharpe.”
“The pressure this year was probably the same as freshman year,” Carter said. “I was coming back from missing a lot of games last year and in that first game [this season] when I fumbled against Frostburg I thought I either can step up and make some plays this game or I can fold.”
Carter bounced back from his first quarter fumble, which gave Frostburg an early 7-6 lead and led SC to a 48-24 victory. He has been in command ever since, something his brother credits to that pitch-black night.
“I don’t know a person more mentally tough than him,” AC said. “There is not a time during the day where he is not thinking about football and how he can get himself better.”
This Saturday against St. John Fisher is Carter’s final home game of his career, and he hopes that someday he will be remembered for his perseverance and work ethic.
“I hope my work ethic shows the younger guys what it takes, and that you can always come back from something no matter what,” Carter said.
“If nobody is giving you a chance, you can persevere.”
Justin Felisko may be reached at email@example.com