ATHENS – Reggie Carter sat down on the stool, then looked up at the assembled media, cameras and tape recorders pointed at him. The linebacker rubbed his hands over his face for a second.
“Geez,” he said, forcing a smile.
For the next seven minutes or so, Carter, at times painfully, tried to get through the session, providing short but polite answers. Clearly, this wasn’t his thing.
Luckily for Carter and the Bulldogs, he’s not been as shy on the football field, even after what he’s been through the past six months.
Entering last season, Carter was a favorite to start at inside linebacker. Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera were gone, and it was basically a given that Carter – the top backup for the previous two seasons – would step into one of their roles.
But then Carter hurt his shoulder in a preseason practice. At first the hope was it would be short term; after missing the season opener, he made the trip to Vanderbilt, assisting on two tackles. But the injury – a labrum – flared up again the next week, and eventually he had to shut it down. He had surgery soon after.
“Just trying to move forward,” Carter said on Thursday. “The injury happened. I’m really not trying to look back on it, just trying to move forward.”
So far the return is going well. Carter did so well in the first week of spring practice that the non-contact jersey he’d been wearing was taken off. He’s been a full-go this week.
“I’ve been pleased with Reggie,” head coach Kirby Smart said. “He doesn’t seem to have any instability in his shoulder. He’s not holding back, not playing tentative, for a guy that went through that shoulder surgery.”
Carrter said he told his teammates to “treat me as a regular person. Don’t hold back.”
Apparently he hasn’t either.
“He’s been taking some shots at me in practice,” tailback Sony Michel said. “He’s happy to be back on the field. You can kinda see it. He’s a very competitive guy.”
The natural next step is what kind of role Carter has this year. Like last year, the two starting spots at inside linebacker are wide open.
Jake Ganus is gone after his one very good year at Georgia. The other spot was occupied most of the time by Tim Kimbrough, who was suspended for the bowl game but is now back in good graces, according to Smart. But a talented group of sophomores (Natrez Patrick, Juwan Taylor and Roquan Smith) could also push for playing time.
Carter doesn’t have their size – he’s listed at 6-foot-1 and 228 pounds – but his calling card is his intelligence and tenacity. Now he gets to show it off to a new staff.
“I’m just happy to play football,” he said. “Happy to be back out there with my teammates.”