- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2017

RICHMOND — Chris Carter is an NFL success story, just not the type you’re thinking of. He’s never made a Pro Bowl and doesn’t have any Super Bowl rings. He’s not a household name. But in a league where NFL is often said to stand for Not For Long, Carter is entering his seventh season.

Any player who lasts that long in the NFL has beaten the odds. For a former fifth-round pick to carve a career as a journeyman backup takes discipline and mental fortitude. For Carter, those traits were forged in him during a three-week military boot camp during high school he says was the turning point in his football career.

“I came back in the best shape of my life and it brought out those mental abilities, mental tactics that l learned there and brought it back to football, implemented that in, I think that was one of the best things ever for me,” Carter said.

The Redskins signed Carter during free agency to compete for a backup spot at outside linebacker. Carter’s longevity isn’t limited to the NFL, though. His football days date back to the age of four, while he was enjoying childhood in Los Angeles. He had some ability, but mostly played for fun and for the enjoyment of being part of a team.

During Carter’s sophomore year of high school, though, his parents sent him to Camp Pendleton, a United States Marine Corps base in California near San Diego. It wasn’t a punishment — Carter was a good kid — but his older siblings had gone, too. Carter’s older sister had been in an ROTC program and used to “get into it” with her instructor, who suggested to Carter’s parents that she go.

“They sent her, she came back and she was a different person when she came back so they said, ‘We’re sending all you guys’,” Carter said.

Carter’s brother went, then Carter himself. They didn’t go together because their parents wanted them to fend for themselves without a sibling to lean on. Carter buzzed his hair and, for three weeks, slept in the barracks or outside, woke at 4 a.m., marched and ran in lockstep with his fellow campers and did pushups “all day, all night.”

“You just learn how to be accountable to the people around you, learn how to be a team player and how to beat your mind. A lot of times your mind is telling you to quit when your body still has a lot left in the tank,” Carter said.

Carter came home in excellent shape and with a renewed sense of what he could get out of football if he set his mind to becoming the best player he could. His junior year of high school he had 89 tackles and 13 sacks. His senior season he had 106 tackles and 21 sacks. He discovered that he had a future as a college, and maybe even professional, football player.

“I got real disciplined and real consistent,” Carter said. “I learned about consistency and I came back and I think I had the best football year of my life.”

After all those pushups, he was benching 345-pounds as an undersized high school linebacker. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds, he’s still on the smaller side, but Carter hit a growth spurt and got more disciplined about his diet, and eventually earned a scholarship to play at Fresno State.

Carter was a fifth-round pick of the Steelers in 2011 and has gone on to play in 62 games total over six seasons. Carter is 28 now, but says his best trait is still his speed off the edge. In 2011, he ran a 4.62 40-yard dash at the Combine, second-best among defensive ends (Carter’s position in college) and slower than only three linebackers.

His highlight-reel plays show him “having an offensive lineman fighting air at some point because he can’t touch me,” Carter said.

Speed also helps on special teams, which will be a major factor in determining whether Carter makes the 53-man roster in September.

“If it’s close, the better special teams player will probably win out,” coach Jay Gruden said Saturday.

Carter said that the Redskins linebacking group feels competitive, with far more NFL-caliber players than can make the roster. Most camps he’s been part of have felt that way, but not all of them. So far, Carter has gotten a lot of work with the special teams unit, but he’s also been in the rotation with the first team, getting work on passing downs.

If he makes the team it’ll be because he brought an “edge” not just some days or on certain plays, but consistently as camp grinds on. To do that, he’ll trust that he can push his body farther than his mind tells him he can, and lean on the mental toughness built over a decade ago in and around the barracks at Camp Pendleton.

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