SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Delone Carter expects Syracuse to leave a lasting impression on Kansas State in the Pinstripe Bowl, and he anticipates being a big part of the reason.
“Once we get out there and I’m healthy and my o-line is healthy and our receivers are healthy, we’re going to dominate,” Carter said of Thursday’s game at Yankee Stadium. “I know defenders don’t like to get hit when it’s cold out, and that kind of gets me excited. I won’t mind the cold. Coming from Akron, Ohio, I’m used to it. It’s not going to bother me. I’ll go a little harder.”
That Carter, a fifth-year senior tailback, can go at all is a testament to modern medicine and the considerable grit he’s displayed in his star-crossed career with the Orange.
The former Mr. Ohio Football ran for 713 yards in 2006 — the second-highest total for a freshman in Syracuse history — and the sky seemed to be the limit for the bruising runner.
Then, just like that, his budding career was put in serious jeopardy when he dislocated his hip while running a route during a 7-on-7 passing drill in spring practice 2007. The university’s medical staff managed to get the ball of Carter’s hip joint back in the socket. A day later, Dr. Wayne Eckhardt, an assistant team doctor, pinned the bone back during surgery to secure the hip socket.
“That was almost a career-ending injury,” Carter said. “I just know God blessed me to heal up fast enough and come back and have the impact that I have on the game now.”
Carter watched the annual spring game that year from the sidelines while leaning on a pair of crutches and missed the entire 2007 season. That the Orange went 2-10 and ranked near the bottom of the Football Bowl Subdivision in rushing made rehab that much more difficult.
All the hard work to get back playing wasn’t rewarded when Carter returned to the team in 2008. Although he dressed for every game, he suffered a hamstring injury early in the season and head coach Greg Robinson made Curtis Brinkley the centerpiece of the Syracuse run game.
Carter finished the season with only 23 carries but averaged 5.9 yards, an indication that he was ready to make his mark at a school that has fielded some of the greatest runners in college football history.
And, despite a different sort of problem, he has.
Last year in Doug Marrone’s rookie season as head coach, Carter rushed for 1,021 yards and scored 12 touchdowns, then fell off the radar again last February after being charged with misdemeanor assault after a one-punch fight that followed a snowball-throwing incident on campus.
The soft-spoken Carter was subsequently suspended by the university and didn’t play in the team’s annual spring scrimmage in April. He returned home to Ohio to continue working out and the university’s judicial review board granted his request for reinstatement at the start of preseason practice in August.
“He looked like a player who hasn’t been here for a while,” Marrone said when he announced Carter’s return. “I am a process guy. You have to show that you can do it on the field.”
More chiseled and more determined than ever, the 5-foot-10, 220-pound Carter, whose bio was deleted from the printed version of the team’s media guide, didn’t miss a beat.
“I wasn’t surprised,” said Orange tailback Antwon Bailey, a close friend. “I know how he works.”
Carter rushed for 1,035 yards and seven touchdowns this season in helping Syracuse (7-5) reach its first bowl game since 2004, and he did it despite more aches and pains. He injured that hip in a win at West Virginia after running for 75 yards on nine carries in just over a quarter, and he sat out most of the season finale against Boston College with an abdominal injury.
“It (playing in a bowl game) definitely means a lot — where I came from and what I went through since being here my freshman year,” Carter said. “It definitely was a roller-coaster, this journey at Syracuse, the ups and the downs. But I feel like everything I’ve been through I’ve become a better man and a better person for it. I feel like it’s going to have a great effect on me for the rest of my life.”
When Carter takes the field against the Wildcats, he’ll need just 29 yards rushing to move past Larry Csonka (2,934 yards from 1965-67) into third place all-time at Syracuse. And if he rushes for 100 yards, that will be the 11th time, which would tie him with the great Jim Brown for seventh. Carter also needs one rushing touchdown to tie Brown for eighth with 23, and just seven carries to move past Walter Reyes (619) into third all-time for the Orange.
That’s a pretty impressive resume for somebody who played on some awful teams before Marrone’s arrival. And Carter is not quite ready to call it a career.
“These last two years I’ve showed what I could do, and I feel like it’s just the beginning,” said Carter, who has an active streak of 215 carries without losing a fumble. “I’m ready to try to do my best and keep on doing my best at the next level.
“I always knew in my heart that I was coming back, that I wasn’t meant to be done with football that early. I prayed about it,” he said. “And I don’t feel like I’m going to be done for a long time. I love this game, and that probably will never die out in me.”