Carter (1/2): “It’s the kind of pressure you want.”

There are few former Florida Gators football players more accomplished than defensive end Kevin Carter. A three-time Southeastern Conference champion who was named first-team All-SEC twice (1993-94) and earned first-team All-American honors his senior year (1994), Carter is a member of the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame (as a Gator Great) and went on to a storied 14-year NFL career.

After being selected with the No. 6 overall pick in the first round of the 1995 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams, Carter ended up a two-time Pro Bowler (1999, 2002) who was named the Rams’ most valuable player in 1998 and won Super Bowl XXXIV.

The consummate team player, Carter played both end and tackle in the NFL and registered 104.5 career sacks including a league-high 17 during St. Louis’ 1999 Super Bowl run. He never missed a game due to injury or otherwise and retired from the NFL after fulfilling his dreams and earning the immense respect of his peers.

Last week, Carter sat down with OGGOA for a 45-minute exclusive interview that touched on his time at Florida, extensive NFL career, charitable efforts and new gig as a television analyst for the SEC Gridiron Live program. OGGOA caught up with Carter while at his home and, even though he was in the middle of getting a brand new deck built, he stepped inside to reminisce about his career and look ahead to new beginnings.

This is part one of our interview with Carter; the second half will be posted Saturday.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: You were born in Miami and grew up living in Tallahassee. What was it that got you to end up playing at Florida rather than for Miami or Florida State?
KEVIN CARTER: “Growing up, I didn’t really grow up a Seminoles fan – I actually grew up a big Georgia Bulldogs fan as a kid, when Georgia won the national championship with Hershel Walker back in 1981. That was more of who I followed as far as being a fan. When it came time for me to go to school, I went to a couple of game at Florida State, took a visit there, got to know some of the players and knew a lot of the guys who were going to go there, but it just never felt like home. It felt too much like being at home. For me, I was looking to kind of get away, be on my own but still close enough for mom’s cooking.

“Academically, Florida State didn’t really have what I wanted to major in. I wanted to do something in the medical field, something medical science-related, possibly pharmacy. I wanted to be at a place that had not only everything that I wanted in a football school but also everything that I needed for my life, academically as well. For me it came down to Notre Dame and Florida. When I met Coach [Steve] Spurrier, I was pretty sold after I talked to him. I was really impressed just by the man he was, his candor and how he lived his life. I liked his style. He was a little cocky – not arrogant but just sure, very process-oriented and driven. I was really impressed by that at 17-years-old. He sold me.”

AS: Your career with Florida speaks for itself, but almost every former Gator I talk to has one game where they felt they performed on a different level that really sticks out in their mind. Which one was that for you?
KC: “The Tennessee game in Knoxville my senior year, 1994, when we went up to Neyland Stadium. They had a big, strong offensive line with all of these big, big guys and [the media was] talking about how this offensive line was going to overpower us and how James Stewart was going to have a big game against us. They were the favorite in the SEC East, and we had just come off of a good year, but a shootout in The Swamp a year prior. We went up there; we took it as a personal challenge. Like I said, we were supposedly outmatched, upfront especially. We took it upon ourselves – me and Ellis Johnson and Henry McMillan, Johnny Church, Mark Campbell – we really took it upon ourselves to go out there and shut up all the critics, come out and really lead the way on defense. We actually ended up winning that game 31-0, so it was a pretty dominating performance on defense.”

Read the rest of part one of our interview with Kevin Carter…after the break!

AS: Florida had a lot of success in the SEC while you were there but fell in that 1992 championship to Alabama. I know that 1992 season included some tough losses. How much did that one hurt?
KC: “I think it kind of made us better. We came off the year, in 1991, the second year under Spurrier. We really were a good team. We had a lot of senior leadership and were trying to duplicate that with young players [in 1992] – having people step up and step into their roles. Losing that game in ’92 kind of gave us a little fire, a little incentive for the future of what we could be. It kind of started us strong for the long run.”

AS: By the time you graduated, the Gators had won three of the first four SEC Championships including the first one officially recognized by the university in 1991. Were any of the three more special than the others, perhaps your senior year [1994]?
KC: “I really felt that team my senior year was the best team that didn’t win it all – win a national championship. We had everything that we needed to win, and we were equipped from top-to-bottom. We had old players, young players, everybody in between. I just don’t think we were ready, psychologically as a team, to win it all. Winning that SEC Championship, beating Alabama there in Atlanta my senior year, was so special. Obviously you look at college football these days – the last five years the SEC can boast that it also has a national championship to go along with its SEC champion. We’re really proud about our football in the SEC and being the toughest conference. Back then we were still trying to establish that identity. For me, the height of anything that we could possibly accomplish, started with us first winning the East and then winning the championship overall. That was a definite feather in my cap. Regardless of anything else, regardless of any other status in the nation, we wanted to be first in the SEC.”

AS: Obviously Florida has a lot of rivals – Florida State, Georgia, Tennessee, Miami. How much did you hate FSU when you were playing?
KC: “[I] hated Florida State with a passion. That would probably be an understatement. Didn’t like Florida State anyway because of the whole rivalry, but personally there was so many guys that I was friends with [on the team]. So many guys that I played on Super Seniors with, Florida-Georgia all-star team, and people you come across or are in proximity to you. We were so close to FSU; we were just two hours away and we crossed paths way too often. Within the state of Florida, the rivalries are obviously bitter. Between Florida, Florida State and Miami in the early 90s, that was just one of those things where… Look, we weren’t even in the same conference but you would think we were by the way we hated each other.”

AS: Coming out of college, you were obviously lauded as one of the best defenders in college football. What were your expectations for the draft and how did it feel when you heard your name called so early?
KC: “Being drafted that high was wonderful. It was overwhelming. To have my name called that high was absolutely crazy. Not being facetious…who would have thought that I would go that high? It was such a surreal experience to think that you’re one of those people in the top 10. You’re one of those people that they talk about lottery picks and instant fame – not just the money but… Being drafted that high comes with an immediate charge of responsibility. It makes you feel like they didn’t draft you that high for you to maybe come in and help out. They brought you in to contribute now. And they thought enough of you to draft you that high. Obviously by the way things were slotted in the draft, you’re going to make a certain amount of money. With that charge of responsibility, it’s a lot of pressure but it’s the kind of pressure you want.”

AS: Your first career NFL sack was on Brett Favre. Do you get any extra joy out of that seeing what he ended up becoming in the league?
KC: “[Laughing] You always remember the first one. I remember almost every sack I ever got. But being that was the first one, that even makes it even more special. The funny thing is that I went on to play for 14 years in the NFL and had one of the longest active streaks of any player while I was playing, but the cool thing was that my first sack came against one of the toughest quarterbacks so to speak. I think he holds the record for the longest streak of starts by a quarterback – or maybe any player in the game.

“Being mentioned in the same sentence, to have similar milestones and stats and be mentioned in the same breath with such players that I have so much admiration and respect for, is awesome. It’s a Gator thing also. When you can represent your school in that fashion, when you can get drafted that high, when you can represent, you set a benchmark and a precedent. I like to say all the time… I’m always joking with the guys that I see – Alex Brown, Jevon Kearse, and those guys – I’m always joking with them and saying, ‘Without guys like me, you wouldn’t have went that high.’ [Laughing] I said, ‘You guys got the notoriety you got because we paved the way.’ It’s a great school pride thing. It’s a great feeling.

“When it’s all said and done when the years go by, those things really hold so much more weight. Winning a Super Bowl, having a Super Bowl ring, having that little miniature Lombardi Trophy in my trophy case that I’m looking at right now standing over my pool table… I’m sitting here looking at some of these things and those things mean so much more as the years go by. It’s just a surreal experience at the time and you’re so happy to be achieving them, but when you start getting a little older you appreciate those things and how hard you worked to get them.”

AS: Let’s talk about that 1999 season with the St. Louis Rams. You had 17 sacks [second on the Rams to Jack Youngblood (18)] and earned a Pro Bowl nod, consensus All-Pro honors and, of course, a Super Bowl ring. How early in that season did you know things were clicking for both you and the team?
KC: “Our defense had been good; we were a tough, scrappy defense that didn’t get a lot of respect because we didn’t have the kind of team or record that really warranted us getting notoriety. Literally, we tell people all the time, we were a good team, we just needed a little help. Going into that season, we had come off of a 4-12 season, so there were so many things that we did that helped us fight through and get to that point. Adding a few pieces through free agency – Marshall Faulk, Trent Green, drafting Tory Holt and Az-Zahir Hakim, guys like that – kind of gave us a little bit of offensive firepower. Coming into that season we thought, ‘Hey, we got some firepower now. We can be a little better.’

“Everybody knows the story of Kurt Warner, that he was playing arena ball and bagging groceries. Kurt, when we were 4-12, he was our third-string quarterback. Kurt absolutely killed us on the scout team. He killed us. He shredded us up. We were like, ‘Man, whoever gets this guy is going to get a real steal because no one knows about him. He’s so good.’ We used to joke about it and little did we know that he would go on to become our MVP and one of the most valuable additions to our Ram team. We had a lot of great players that were in place, but so much of football is assembling the right cast at the right time.

“Personally, I had come off a 12-sack season. I was kind of at that juncture where your ability meets your knowledge for the game. Maybe my knowledge for the game was not as high as it would be a couple of years later when I was playing for the Titans, but my ability was at its peak. I had prepared and done things from a physical standpoint – I had my stuff working. I had my mojo going. Being there on that team, in that situation, a lot of us were primed and ready to win. Once we got our shot… When Trent went down and Kurt stepped in, after a couple of games, I knew we had magic.

“When I really knew we were going to win it all, funny enough, was the seventh game of the season. We went into Nashville to play the Titans, and they were just an overwhelmingly physically talented team. Steve McNair, God rest his soul, is the toughest quarterback I’ve ever played against hands-down. They had Eddie George, Lorenzo Neal in front of Eddie George leading the way – it was crazy. They had The Freak. They had just a strong, physical defense. They were tough and physical up front on offense. We go into Week 7 and they are up 21-0 in the first quarter. They just jumped all over us. We took their best shot that first quarter. We ended up losing the game, but we ended up losing the game 24-21 – they didn’t score the rest of the game until kicking a field goal late. They didn’t get past the 35 again. We actually missed a 42-yarder at the end of regulation that would have sent the game into overtime. At that point, I knew we had the team to win it all. I’m like, ‘If this is the best that the league has to offer, if this is how much we’re going to get challenged, this is not enough to beat us. We’re better than this.’ That was the point when I really felt good about where we were.”

AS: The experience of not just playing in but also winning in a Super Bowl has to be surreal. Something you’ve worked for your whole life finally happening. What were you feeling then and can you describe that for fans who may not understand?
KC: “I was probably the most tired I had ever been in my life. I was thoroughly exhausted…just completely exhausted. I was so emotionally exhausted from chasing around the quarterback the entire game. The emotion that goes into it. You can say that you’re playing in the biggest game of your life. But that WAS the biggest game of my life. There would be no bigger stage. There would be no greater opportunity. It was a game of football for all the marbles. Being a part of that, it’s hard to really describe what the process was like. The first 10 plays of the game were crazy – missed assignments all over the place. The thing you realize about a game like that is you’ve got to settle down and actually play football. I hate to say, ‘It’s just a game,’ but it is just a game. You better learn really quickly in a game like that to settle down, do your job and do what you’ve done the whole season to get you there. That’s what I had to get over in that moment. It is surreal. It is crazy.

“I remember being completely exhausted, done. The skin on both my forearms had been eaten away from diving on that old Astroturf; my skin was white, I was bleeding from my elbows. I remember trying to put together a pass rush on the last play. Leading up to it, I had Steve McNair dead in the lights at one point, and he puts a hand down and just escapes my grasp and throws [the ball] down to the red zone, completes a pass and then you have to line up for another one. Literally on the last play, when he threw the ball to Kevin Dyson and I saw him go towards the end zone, the thought that went through my mind was, ‘I’ve got to get some strength from somewhere because we’re going to overtime.’ And then that’s all I could really think about was overtime. When I saw a bunch of guys giving the ‘no good’ symbol, and the confetti shot into the air, I just collapsed on the field. I remember Coach McNeal walking over and standing over me and he just said very plainly, ‘Kevin Carter – you’re a world champion. Congratulations.’”

In part two of our interview with Carter (published on Saturday), he discusses moving on after winning the Super Bowl, new Gators head coach Will Muschamp and defensive line coach Dan Quinn, the 2010 Florida team, his retirement decision, his charitable efforts and his brand new gig as a television analyst.

» OGGOA INTERVIEWS: Delisha Milton-Jones | DL Joe Cohen | F Chandler Parsons | C Marreese Speights | LB Mike Peterson | PG Taurean Green | QB Tim Tebow | QB Danny Wuerffel | ESPN’s Erin Andrews | ESPN’s Erin Andrews II | DE Alex Brown | WR Percy Harvin | F/C Al Horford | WR David Nelson | QB Shane Matthews | TE Cornelius Ingram | DE Jermaine Cunningham | S Major Wright | LB Earl Everett | DE Justin Trattou | DT Terron Sanders | F/C Chris Richard | DE Lynden Trail

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2 Responses to “Carter (1/2): “It’s the kind of pressure you want.””

  1. Drew 4 Orange & Blue says:

    Thanks…that was a great read!!!

  2. j.b says:

    Fabulous interview, Adam. I remember seeing Kevin around campus during my undergraduate years (often riding a bicycle clearly not built for such a hulk of a human) and he was always gracious and nice, usually smiling.
    Good to see he appreciates his time in the NFL and at UF, and it was a wonderful to read about his successes. We fans live vicariously through our sports stars, and I was living very much vicariously through Kevin during this interview. His description of winning the Super Bowl is about as good as any I’ve ever read. None of the “I was blessed, I was lucky, blah blah” (yes, we know of course…). I can just feel his exhaustion with him.

    Looking forward to part 2. Congrats Kevin and I can’t wait to see you on the new SEC Gridiron Live show. I’m sure you’ll do well and represent UF with class.

    Go Gators!

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