- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 26, 2000

ATLANTA St. Louis left defensive end Kevin Carter and middle linebacker London Fletcher are the key players on the Rams' underrated defense. But that doesn't mean the NFL sack leader and the Rams' leading tackler have a lot in common.

The 6-foot-5, 280-pound Carter is so sculpted that Rams right defensive tackle D'Marco Farr said, "Kevin wasn't born. He was engineered."

The 5-10, 241-pound Fletcher, a self-described "wild man" on the field, would be considered stocky even if he wasn't an NFL player.

"I always felt that if I was given an opportunity, my talent would speak for itself," said Fletcher, whose 138 tackles were the most by a Ram in four years and the fourth most in 38 seasons. "The Rams gave me an opportunity, and I'm just taking advantage of it. I can't do anything about my height. If I was taller, I might not be as good as I am."

Farr marvels at Carter's gifts and Fletcher's desire.

"London is a tremendous inspiration," Farr said. "He's the best middle linebacker I've played with. He plays sideline to sideline, and he hits and talks with the best of them, too. He's our quarterback on defense. I thought I was a lunatic in the huddle, but London tells me to shut up because I'm interfering with his monologue.

"Kevin means so much to our defense. He totally caves in the left side of the offensive line. He makes offensive coordinators wipe out the right side of their playbooks. You can't pass-protect against Kevin. You can't run to his side. You can't move him."

Football came easily for Carter. He started as a freshman at Florida. When he left school after a standout junior year, the Rams made him the sixth pick in the 1995 NFL Draft and plugged him into the lineup.

Fletcher, whose college career began on the St. Francis (Pa.) basketball team, played Division III football at John Carroll (Ohio). He was one of two rookie free agents to make the Rams in 1998 and led them in special teams tackles before becoming a starter this season.

"Every day last season London would tell Eric Hill, an 11-year veteran who was starting and had played tremendous ball for a long time, that he was better than him," cornerback Todd Lyght said. "It was like an ongoing joke between them, but deep down London really believed it. That's the type of determination he has. He plays with such ferocity, such reckless abandon. It really inspires everybody."

Carter grew up in laid-back Tallahassee, Fla., where his parents, UPS worker Louis and accountant Virginia, raised him to think education first, sports second.

Sports were an escape for Fletcher. The perils of life in inner-city Cleveland affected his life, specifically his sister Kecia's rape and murder when he was 12 and his mother Linda's ongoing battle with drug addiction.

"The things that have happened with my mom, I use as motivation to get better and try to provide her with a better life," said the 24-year-old Fletcher, whose parochial school education was paid for by a wealthy Cleveland couple who adopted his sixth-grade public school class. "I often think about my sister and wonder what she could have been. She's with me all the time in my heart. I talk about my story because I believe it can inspire children at risk; so they can understand that their problems are not unique. If they can see me overcome those type of things, I feel I've done my job."

Carter didn't have a troubled adolescence, but he had a rough start in life.

"My mom's anemic, and I didn't quite develop full term because of a lack of blood," Carter said. "When I was born, I couldn't see. My parents decorated my room with Superman stuff in the hope that I would turn out OK. I got my sight at three or four months old, [but] Superman's still my alter ego. I was still a runt my freshman year in high school. I was 5-8 and I played saxophone in the band. I had always wanted to play football, but I didn't worry about it. I had resolved that whatever I did, I was going to do it great. I was good at band, and I was always a good student. Good grades always came first."

But Carter grew eight inches before his sophomore year, and his football career began. He averaged eight sacks in his first three NFL seasons, improved to 12 in 1998 and then zoomed to 17 this year.

"Leading the league in sacks places a responsibility on my shoulders," said the 26-year-old Carter. "Your top players have to make plays for your team to win. I have to do that every game."

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