Column: Safety may fit just fine for Notre Dame football's Antonio Carter

South Bend Tribune
SOUTH BEND — It took a Notre Dame football road trip to Mishawaka for new Irish safety Antonio Carter to realize that he isn’t in Kingston, Rhode Island anymore.
The graduate transfer was in the big time, at a big-time college football program, with big plans this season.
For the better part of the last three months, since Carter committed to Notre Dame after four years at Football Championship Subdivision Rhode Island, football has pretty much been football. The offseason conditioning program at Notre Dame was more demanding, but Carter knew that was coming with the territory. It was going to be an adjustment, so he adjusted.
The dudes along the interior lines were just a little bit bigger — OK, a LOT bigger — than guys on the Rhody roster. The Rams don’t get guys like left tackle Joe Alt (6-foot-7 5/8, 322 pounds). They don’t have anyone on the roster like defensive end Javonte Jean-Baptiste (6-4½, 260). They certainly don’t have anyone who looks and moves like running back Audric Estime (5-11½, 233). Guys who are linebacker size at Notre Dame often are interior linemen at Rhode Island, so that was different.
Practice also took some time to get used to — it moves faster now than it did then — while playing a new position. Carter has moved from cornerback (he made 60 tackles with 10 last season) to safety. At Notre Dame, the unit is kind of a patched-together unit with a sixth-year senior (D.J. Brown) two former wide receivers (Ramon Henderson, Xavier Watts) and two transfers (Carter and former Oklahoma State safety Thomas Harper) comprising the core. It could use a leader. Or two.
Carter handled all that was thrown at him with realtive ease. Then it was time to ride a bus.
That’s when it got odd. Carter was thrown for a loop when the preseason camp schedule took Notre Dame to Steele Stadium at Mishawaka High School for practice. Carter boarded one of the several motorcoaches idling outside the Guglielmino Complex for the 7.5-mile trek to the next town over. He couldn’t wrap his football head around the fact that the caravan received a police escort. Flashing lights, sirens, traffic pulling over, everything. If the team buses needed to get somewhere at Rhode Island, they often had to crawl through town and wait out red lights like everybody else.
Not around the Bend.
“I was like, ‘Wow,’” Carter said. “For a scrimmage we get all this? They really take care of you.”
Long before that experience, before preseason camp commenced, before he figured out where he fit within coordinator Al Golden’s defense, Carter felt he fit at Notre Dame. The summer conditioning program was a challenge and getting to know his teammates took time, but it wasn’t anything that caused Carter to question choosing Notre Dame over Florida, LSU, Mississippi and Wisconsin.
It wasn’t easy, but even as he scrambled to get up to speed, Carter was at ease.
“I was like, ‘You know, this is the place that I was meant to be at,’” said the Orlando native. “Ever since then, it’s been a little better every day. The physicality is there; the mentality is there.
“I do belong here.”
Forget cornerback, the kid's a safety
It took only the first day of practice in full pads for Carter to show safeties coach Chris O’Leary that he belongs. The workout may not have even been five periods in when O’Leary heard a sound that forced him to turn his head. Like, what was that?
On film, O’Leary liked how Carter might make the transition from corner to safety smooth. The more he saw Carter on the practice field, O’Leary saw not a cornerback masquerading as a safety but a safety who spent his previous three seasons masquerading out on the island of cornerback.
Whatever “it” is that makes a safety a safety, Carter has it. O’Leary still jokes in the defensive meeting room about how he can’t believe Carter spent so many years as a corner. He’s not a corner.
“He’s built to be a safety — steps into the box and strikes,” O’Leary said. “When he hits you, you can feel it.”
And hear it. O’Leary did that day. It just sounded … different. Carter is doing something already what former corners usually take years to get. Adjusting to safety, with all the reads and checks and calls and responsibilities and pressure is something some guys never get. It doesn’t matter if he played at Rhode Island. It doesn’t matter that he once played only corner.
The kid’s a football player; he’s playing football.
“He’s made it look easy because he’s a smart football player,” O’Leary said. “He gets it. It’s nothing that I didn’t expect. We like where he’s at right now.”
That’s still nowhere near where Carter wants to be as a consistent contributor on a defense that has a chance to be good. He’s got size (5-11¾, 200) and smarts (he’s working on his master’s) and experience (28 career games, 21 starts) on his side. He also knows there’s more to learn every single day.
“He knows where to go; he knows when to be there; he knows how to be in the right spots,” said Brown. “Every day, he’s always asking me questions about the playbook and how to get better. I appreciate that.”
Which leads to this question — how did Carter get here? To Notre Dame. After his three-plus seasons at Rhode Island, Carter jumped into the transfer portal with an undergraduate degree in hand hoping to find a new (bigger) football challenge (kind of like fellow graduate transfer Sam Hartman).
The way Carter had it figured, if he could get a scholarship to a Sun Belt school (Coastal Carolina?) and play his final two seasons at a level that might gain NFL attention, he’d feel like he hit it big.
Instead, a kid whose only offers out of high school were from Fordham, Gardner-Webb and Rhode Island won the freakin’ portal lottery. Coastal Carolina? Pffft. Bigger schools knew of him. Bigger schools wanted him. It all seemed a dream, right down to his official campus visit in late May, where a commitment followed days later.
“All those schools started coming in and I was like, ‘Wow, this is really happening,” Carter said. “It’s something I dreamed of coming out of high school, but it didn’t go as planned. For it to happen like that was amazing.”
A football life Carter once dreamed of awaits. Time to grab it.

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