ATHENS ― Reggie Carter remembers getting up and thinking to himself: I can make it. The national television audience had seen Carter’s eyes roll in a daze. But Carter thought he could make it to the Georgia sideline and walk it off.
Then he tried walking.
“I felt myself veering to the right, and I saw coach [Kirby] Smart having his hand out [saying] get down,” Carter said. “That was the only thing I could see. I just got down.”
The research and debate on concussions is an ongoing issue. Carter, the senior Georgia inside linebacker, sustained the second one in as many years in the game Sept. 30 at Tennessee. UGA’s medical staff, headed up by Ron Courson, is known for its diligence and caution when it came to head injuries, so they proceeded with care when Carter came off the field.
Almost immediately, he was ruled out of the game. When he returned home with the rest of the team, Carter was instructed to keep his eyes away from the iPad or do other things that would cause strain. That’s standard with concussions.
“You’re just supposed to rest,” Carter said. “I put a big sheet on my window and kept my room completely dark, and I was just resting.”
It would be two weeks before Carter returned to practice. Georgia could have used him – starting inside linebacker Natrez Patrick was arrested for marijuana possession two days before Georgia’s next game. That and Carter’s injury sent the team further down the depth chart.
But this being 2017, the team didn’t simply just tell Carter to shake it off and get back out there. Especially since he had the concussion last season.
“It’s rough. And it’s definitely tough,” Carter said. “But you’ve got to trust them and trust the athletic training staff. They work with me and I work with them. I kept it 100 with them and they kept it 100 with me.”
Carter was eventually cleared to return to practice before the Florida game, and he ended up starting. The injury didn’t leave him tentative. In the first half he ran up to make a crushing tackle for a 1-yard loss.
“When I got up I was just like: It feels good to be back,” Carter said.
This is Carter’s fifth year at Georgia, and he’s dealt with more than head injuries. A shoulder injury led to a medical redshirt in 2015, when he was projected to be a starter. He returned to start eight games last year, rotating with Patrick and Roquan Smith. He missed two games with a concussion.
Throughout his career, Carter has been a quiet but productive linebacker, his knowledge of the defense and nose for the ball making up for any size or speed limitations. He enters the game Saturday against South Carolina with 95 career tackles.
“I remember watching tape of him when he was in the ninth and 10th grade,” Smart said, who was at Alabama at the time. “He’s really a good leader for us. He understands the defense; he knows how to execute it. He’s not very emotional. It shows kind of how resilient he is to come back from the injuries he’s overcome.”
Carter isn’t the only Georgia player who’s dealt with a concussion this year, but the second in as many years adds another dimension. He was asked if it gave him any pause, and any thoughts about his future.
“I feel good. And I felt good,” he said. “So I know my body, and just be honest with the athletic training staff and being able to communicate with them. I’m in good hands with Mr. Ron and his staff. So just trust their process and trust them.”