BEAVERTON, Ore. — A very big name for Georgia fans to know this week at The Opening has been speedy Texas running back Toneil Carter.
It is now a name to write down among the Class of 2017. The nation’s No. 5 RB made his silent commitment known on Sunday. The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder has shined this week on an Alpha Pro team stacked with commitments. He’s the sixth member of that team to commit to Georgia and now the 14th commitment in this class.
There’s a lot more than that to learn about the speedy Houston-area four-star prospect who ranks as the nation’s No. 108 prospect this year. For starters, there’s his unique first name. The phonetics are just like the later in the “Captain and Tennille” music group that caught fire 40 years ago.
“Why does everybody say that?” he told DawgNation earlier this year. “I get that all the time.”
Back on his first day at Langham Creek High School, a trainer missed that distinction. He referred to him as “Toenail” Carter.
“I was like that was the funniest moment,” Carter said. “Wow. It happens. I understand it. I’ve been going through it all my life so it doesn’t bother me one bit. I’ve been through worse things than somebody calling me ‘toenail’ or thinking I was named after a singer.”
He’d like to see college football fans one day think of more than their Grandmother’s playlist when they hear his first name. He has long favored Georgia. That goes back to when Thomas Brown was still the running backs coach.
How does that happen? Well, thank those ESPN highlights and the SEC Network planting that seed. Those highlights of No. 34 slamming and slashing defenses on his way to all-time great status made a mark.
“I saw that ‘30 for 30’ on Herschel,” Carter said. “What running back would not be inspired by his work ethic? Racing trains as a kid and stuff like that? Come on. That’s as good as it gets right there. That’s stuff that I would not even think to do to be great. If I had to go there, I would. I just wouldn’t have thought about stuff like that as a kid.”
That was a back on a first-name basis with college football history if there ever was one. Then came Knowshon Moreno and Todd Gurley. Then Nick Chubb.
“I just want to be like them and go places,” Carter said earlier this year. “No matter what or who is the coach there the University of Georgia will always be a running back school. I will always look real hard at and into going to play at Georgia.”
When Brown left Georgia, that shook his interest in UGA. For just a bit. When he moved to Miami he said “it shook him up.”
Yet he still loved Georgia. He said back in January that Georgia was still his top school and was going to be his first official visit in the transition at runnings backs coach in Athens.
Dell McGee quickly took the job and it was a seamless transition. He said McGee came at him so hard that he didn’t allow Carter’s interest in the program to falter.
The two have grown close. Even to the point where Carter said that McGee has become “like a father” to him. That will be important going forward. He lost his mother back in 2009. He has never known his father and he is incarcerated in a Louisiana jail. He is also the fourth of sixth children.
A big-time athlete calls a coach a father figure. That like sounds like something that elite prospects say all the time, but this example won’t be like any of the others.
“My life has been a struggle,” Carter said. “That’s why I will always love to compete and always yearn to compete. I’ve got a lot to overcome. I love to compete. I have always had to compete.”
Carter’s mother Glenda Carter passed away at the age of 33. It was cancer. He said that his mother’s memory inspires him to do great things with his life.
“It is like she is always with me everywhere I go,” Carter said. “I just put on for her and I just let it all show. I just want to make her proud. That’s my first priority. ….She was always a woman of God,” Carter said. “She always stayed prayed up. She always prayed for the best for us.”
She battled her condition and was told she was in remission. Yet it came back less than three months later.
“She was going through chemo,” Carter said. “The left side of her body stopped functioning and the medicine she was taking was killing her, too. So she was like just stop giving her the medicine.”
Carter said his mother’s birthdays will always be his fondest memories of her. She had been in coma but came out of it right before her last birthday.
“Some years it falls on Thanksgiving,” Carter said. “Some years it falls the day before but I think the last one was on Thanksgiving. She cooked a big dinner for everyone and she just laughed and smiled at everything. She lit up the room with her smile. That smile on her last birthday. She just stayed smiling. I think that she knew that it was her time on that birthday, but she got to celebrate that last one with us. She stayed smiling the whole entire day.”
While he watched the life ebb from his mother over her last few weeks, she made it clear to her son what she wanted from him and what he had to make out of his life when she was gone. Carter was struggling with it. He was mad. His focus in school and on and off the football field was wavering.
“She knew what I was going through while she was in the hospital,” Carter said. “She told me to not ever get out of character ever again. Because she knew me. Going through that little period of time I was having a rough week. I was talking back to my teachers. She heard about it in the hospital and told me ‘Do not ever get out of character again’ and I never did that again. I think about that every day. I think that’s what made me a better person right there. That little line right there is what made be a better person.”
It is a hard story to share, but he wants to. It helps the world know what a difference she still makes in his life even after she has passed on. He rubbed the corners of his eyes by his nose as he shared that memory, but still always managed to keep smiling.
Like his mother did on her last birthday.
“I know for a fact that I love my momma to death and me getting out of character like that when she was passing away was an important time in my life,” Carter said. “Me treating a teacher like that. An elder lady like that. That wasn’t me. That was not the son my momma raised. It made me feel bad and when she told me that line about my lapse of character she didn’t know that I will still hear her say that in my mind day after day even after she was gone. My mother lives on in me through that moment.”
That loss came after Carter and his family grew up in Louisiana. That’s why LSU was always going to be one of his top schools. He’s from New Orleans and had to move away to Texas after Hurricane Katrina. He painted his room purple when he moved to Texas.
“If Katrina had never hit, I don’t know if we would have left Louisiana or not,” Carter said. “I really don’t know. I only know that it happened and we had to move away and find a new home.”
His mother never told him about his father’s situation. He never asked her about him. That’s why his connection to McGee already means so much. He already fills a spiritual and emotional void.
Yet with the loss of a mother and the absence of a father, his oldest brother was there. When Byron Carter was 18 years old, his mother held a life-changing conversation with him.
His faith was not yet as strong as it is now. The 26-year-old is now an associate pastor for a church in the Houston-area. He remembers what his mother said to him about taking on the role of a parent before she passed away.
“It was a very touchy conversation,” Byron Carter said. “It was the day she decided she no longer wanted to fight and deal with the pain. We were at M.D. Anderson Center and her body started refusing the chemotherapy and the blood transfusions.”
So Byron Carter explained that to her. Then he asked his mother what she wanted to do with the rest of her care.
“She was like ‘Would you please just let me go because I am tired’ and then she said ‘All I want you to do is to keep everybody together. Can you do that for me because I am tired’ and she asked me that and I told her yes. Immediately. I told her okay and then I walked out the door and broke down. I stepped out the door. That was the hardest thing I have ever had to do and one of the hardest things I have ever had to experience. I felt like I was holding her arm instead she said let me go.”
When her oldest son said he would keep everyone together, that was what she was holding on for. Byron Carter said his mother passed away less than 24 hours later.
Byron Carter is thankful for the support he had in the beginning and still to this day. There have been genuine people to have made a difference in his family’s life without seeking any spotlight.
Carter realizes what his oldest brother did.
“That’s my family,” Carter said. “Since we were little he has always been a father figure to us. Me and my younger siblings. I look at him as a father as much as I look as a brother. He’s more of a father figure to me than he is my brother. He had to swap that role for a bigger role in my life. I needed him to.”
The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder plans to enroll early and report to Georgia in January.
“I just want to see my family proud of me,” Carter said. “I want to be that first person to take it all the way. With everything we have been through, when I make it I know that will bring another smile to a lot of our faces, too. One thing my brother has always told me it to make my own brand. Right now my brand is Carter. He’s always told me to go out and set my goals and make my brand.”
Carter hopes to wear No. 28 at Georgia. He ran a 4.5 laser time at The Opening this week in the 40-yard dash. His best showing in the 100 meters was a time of 10.5 seconds. He was timed at 10.71 in the 100 meters earlier this year.
“I have been through some tough stuff in my life, but I just use it as a fuel to help my siblings to have a better life,” Carter said. “If my mother would have never passed I don’t think I would have the drive that I do now. I think I would just probably be average. I lost my mother and a very important person in my life, but she is still with me today because she inspires me to be great.”
Jeff Sentell covers UGA football and UGA recruiting for AJC.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges. Unless otherwise indicated, player rankings and ratings are from the 247Sports Composite.