COVINGTON, Ga. — Talk to Eastside assistant coach Frankie Iverson if you want to crack the code on what’s gotten into Eagles running back Taylor Carter, particularly over the last four or five weeks of the season.
If it seems like Carter has been a man possessed with the football in his hand, you wouldn’t be the only one thinking that way.
Carter’s coming into Friday night’s tussle with top-ranked Blessed Trinity fresh off a 13-carry, 123-yard rushing performance that came with a side of three touchdowns. That performance lifted him over the 1,000 yard mark for the season. But more than the stats, Carter’s been forging ahead with a loud running style that belies his typical soft spoken demeanor.
Enter the Frankie Iverson challenge.
“Earlier in the season I challenged Taylor to run angry,” Iverson said following fourth-ranked Eastside’s 42-35 win over Burke County in the Class AAAA state playoffs last Friday. “I wanted him to run like he was mad. Like he had a chip on his shoulder.”
Although there were a plethora of examples of Carter’s newfound, violent running style to point to against Burke County, a particular touchdown run in Eastside’s first round game against Hardaway may serve as the best picture of Carter’s attitude while toting the rock.
In that game, he bounced to the corner and through a wicked stiff arm on a Hardaway defender that was so forceful it could be heard on video. After he threw the stiff arm, he darted toward the end zone and dove for the pylon for a touchdown.
Against Burke County, with the game still somewhat in doubt and Eastside needing one more first down to ice things, Carter burst through the middle of Burke’s defense and sprinted 46 yards. After that, it was victory formation time.
But when you ask Carter about it, he wants nothing to do with taking any credit for himself.
“Starting off, I just want to thank everyone who’s blocked for me, from the offensive line to the receiving corps,” Carter said. “But it means a lot, honestly, for us to be playing at this level. The way we’ve turned things around in the majority of the games where we were down, it means a lot.”
The 5-foot-9, 180-pound senior isn’t blowing up the recruiting radar. Some may question his top-end speed -- he's been clocked at around 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash -- but what he may lack in that category, he more than makes up for it in his vision, toughness and reliability with the ball in his hand and his leadership.
Carter doesn’t tend to care much about not being a blue chip propsect. In fact, it seems that he embraces the underdog role.
“To what we’re doing with a team that’s not very talented means a lot, we just come to work hard every day, and it just means so much to me personally,” he said.
So does the advice he got from Iverson.
“I’ve never been in this position before,” he said. “So whatever advice I can get, I take it, use it and if it works for me in the game, I’m just gonna keep doing it to help my team.”
Eastside head coach Troy Hoff has nothing but praise for Carter’s work ethic, which he says sets him apart from others with comparable — or even more — natural ability.
“He’s a warrior,” Hoff said. “He power cleans 295 (pounds), squats 495, 500 and benches 315. That’s just how he works. He’s a driven young man and an ultimate competitor.”
He’s got a couple of sophomore backs behind him in Terrence Reid and Quincy Cullins, Jr. and a freshman in Ramon Hernandez who look suited to help make up for the offensive production that’ll be missing when he graduates, but according to Hoff, it’ll be another task filling in those leadership gaps his absence will create.
“The way he works, that feeds to the other ones,” Hoff said. “And he’s a great leader. He doesn’t say much, but the way he goes and the way he approaches his business, that says a lot to everybody else.”
On Thursday, Carter enjoyed his first Thanksgiving Day practice in preparation for the Blessed Trinity game. And Carter, along with Hoff and the rest of the team, knows well the powerhouse tradition and championship swagger that will accompany Blessed Trinity when they show up to Sharp Stadium Friday night. But none of that moves him or changes the way he’s prepping for arguably the biggest game in his high school career to this point.
“We’re just gonna come in and do our thing,” he said. “It’s Thanksgiving week, and we got a lot on our minds. But Blessed Trinity is just another playoff problem that we’re gonna have to get through. It’s gonna feel good for us to have that challenge.”