A father’s tough love puts Michail Carter on a path to success

Jackson High graduate Michail Carter has probably spent as much or more time in a weight room than any 18-year-old football player.

JACKSON — Michail Carter is about as Georgia as a Georgian can get. He hails from Jackson, right here in the middle of Butts County and right slap-dab in the middle of the state. And his family’s roots run deep here. Deep, deep, deep. There’s nary a time anybody around can remember when there wasn’t a Carter or a Taylor or a Barlow lifting the town up like the pillars that they are.

In August, they’ll roast a pig out at the Butts County Fairgrounds, just like they do every year. But this year is special. It represents the 75th anniversary of the Barlow family reunion. That family includes Michail’s mother Meatrice Taylor Carter, his father Michael Carter, and his sister Meagan.

So the family’s “young men” will stay up all night Saturday cooking and tending to the hog. On Sunday, after services at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, great grandmother Maudine Barlow Taylor and the other women will come and pick the meat from the bones and take it home to prepare the chopped barbecue. Everybody will change, come back to the fairgrounds and the celebration will commence.

Barlow Family Reunion, which includes Michail Carter’s family, is kind of a big deal in Jackson, as the annual T-shirts illustrate. FAMILY PHOTO

The planning committee meets monthly in the summers and is still working on this year’s T-shirt design. They settle on a different color each year, but two things always remain the same: the family crescent on the front and the family tree on the back.

“It’s gonna be something,” Meatrice Carter says this year’s affair, adding a “woo” for effect. “We’ll have over 200 hundred there.”

They’ll have one less than usual, however. Michail Carter isn’t likely to make it. The reunion is scheduled for the last Sunday in August. That happens to be the weekend before Georgia’s season opener against North Carolina. By then, Michail will be deeply engrossed in preseason camp with the Georgia Bulldogs.

So Michail will be a little busy. He is an incoming freshman from Jackson High School. As a 6-foot-3, 317-pound defensive lineman, he is one of the first-year players on which Georgia is very much counting to get a contribution.

Nevertheless, he will be at that 75th annual reunion in spirit. His family heritage and those deep roots in Jackson define this young man and is something in which he takes great satisfaction.

“It makes me kind of proud in the sense that this is where I come from,” Carter said during an interview at Jackson High before reporting to UGA on June 1. “My family is very tight. We go to church every Sunday. My grandfather is a deacon, my uncle is a deacon, my grandmother is on the board. We’re very education-oriented, and we’re all close.”

A family of achievers

Indeed, Michail comes from a family of hard-working professionals. His family elders include a retired executive at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a retired engineer with the Department of Transportation, an electrician, a school teacher and a high school assistant principal, just to name a few. Everybody in this extensive clan works, and they tend to hold down pretty good jobs.

Michael Carter (L) has provided stern and steady leadership for the family, which includes Michail, his mother Meatrice and his younger sister Meagan. FAMILY PHOTO

The same goes with Michail’s parents. His mother, Meatrice, is a Clark University alumnae and has a long record of service with the post office. His father, Michael, didn’t go to college but has worked since the day he graduated from high school. The last 27 years of that has been as a guard Jackson State Prison, a maximum-security prison located just outside of town.

Michail Carter has his sights on landing a good job, too. He has already decided to major in sports medicine and minor in personal finance at UGA. Those should mesh nicely with his anticipated NFL career.

“I want to help people,” said Carter, looking at home sitting behind a desk in the main office at Jackson High. “I want to be in the medical field with a professional team of some kind, baseball, football, it doesn’t matter. And I want to pick up personal finance just so that, if I am blessed enough to go to the NFL, I’ll know how to manage my own money and will not have to rely on anybody else to do that for me.”

When it comes to positive influences in his life, Michail Carter can’t take a step in Jackson without bumping into one. But no single individual has made more of a profound impact on him than his father.

Michael Carter was his son’s coach from the time he started running around playing football in the backyard as a toddler until he had to reluctantly hand him off to the capable coaches at Jackson High. Even then, Michail’s father would instruct him about using his hands and improving his footwork.

“Still does to this day,” Michail says.

“They have such a unique bond,” Meatrice said. “Michael always coached him and it always started at home. He’d work him and work him. Michail would be so tired, he was going to give up. But he never did and eventually it became a great passion for him.”

Michael’s coaching wasn’t just limited to practices at the local park either. It started to home and it continued year-round.

Father and son developed a routine. Dad would come after one of his 12-hour shifts at the prison and Michail and he would head out to the yard to work on techniques, agility or strength and conditioning.

“When the rec season was over, football didn’t stop for us,” said his father, who is 6-4, 300-pounds and was himself a standout football player at Jackson. “We were constantly doing stuff. We were always doing something to try to enhance his skills. We’d go to different places and try different things, and he just kind took off from there.”

Father knows best

Finding time for his son required dedication and commitment for Michael Carter. In addition to working at the prison, he also drove a bus for the Butts County School System. So he’d get off his shift at the prison at 6 a.m., start his bus route at 7 a.m., go home and sleep until 1:45 p.m., than get up and go make his rounds in the bus again. Afterward, he’d catch up with Michail either at home or a ball field somewhere. Then he’d head back out to the prison.

Michael worked different shifts and different schedules at different times over the years. But he always managed to find a way to get in a little coaching time with Michail.

“It was a long road. It was hard,” Michael Carter said. “We were constantly going. There was a lot of time spent on it, but it was family time so it was time well spent.”

It wasn’t until Michail got to high school that Michael Carter finally handed off his coaching to Dary Myricks (R) and the Red Devils’ staff. AJC / CHIP TOWERS

Mr. Carter was always coming home with new training tools for his son. It might be a parachute that opened behind Michail as he ran or a weighted sled that he could harness into and pull behind him. He had a complete Olympic weight set and never wonted for any kind of cleats or gloves or arm pads.

“I’ll tell you, I think he spent more money on Michail than me and Meagan together,” Meatrice Carter says of her and their 16-year-old daughter. “He was always buying equipment for him to train with. They aerated my yard with those cleats and that sled.”

Michael Carter was big on discipline and routine for his son, too, and not just with regard to sports. He was expected to get up early and work out before school. When Michail got home, he had to do his homework before he could do anything else.

There was a period in which all the tough love put a strain on the Michail’s relationship with his father. But ultimately it survived and was stronger for it.

“He’s on me 24-7,” Michail said with a laugh. “At a young age, I thought he was just being mean. But now I look back at it and I really appreciate it. I see how my life is going and I see some other kids that don’t have a father-figure like him and I really appreciate it.”

It’s understandable considering where Michael Carter goes to work every week. Jackson State Prison — which goes by the official name of Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison — is a maximum-security facility that serves as sort of a weigh station for most of the state’s convicted offenders who are about to enter long stretches in the correctional system. It also happens to house death-row inmates and the state’s execution chamber.

Michael Carter has had all kinds of different assignments inside the 2,300-bed prison over the years. For the longest while, though, he was on the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. overnight shift, six days on, three days off. That eventually morphed into 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. with three days on, four days off.

As one might expect, Michael Carter said he has “had some scary times in there,” without going into details. “But I never really had a major problem on the inside. I think my size might have had something to do with it,” he said.

Nevertheless, the family was always relieved whenever they heard his car pulling up in the driveway.

“He used to be on the search team,” Michail say. “That’s when the officers would come in and search the cells for shanks and contraband and things like that. ”

Michael Carter has “got it pretty good now” on an outside work detail during a day shift. But the lost lives he sees pass through those gates every day formed the basis for his stern upbringing for Michail and his younger sister.

“Every day I’m seeing young men at an early age, 18-19 years old, who just basically threw their life away because there wasn’t any structure or discipline in the home or being raised by a single parent,” he said. “That’s what I was trying to instill in Michail. I told him, ‘one day, when you get my age and you have kids you’ll see and understand why that’s how you were raised.’ I didn’t want to lose him to the streets and gangs and violence and everything that’s going on.”

Sticking with Georgia

No, the Carters didn’t lose Michail to the streets. Instead they are losing him to the perilous world of SEC football. And, really, there was never much doubt that he’d one day be playing at the highest level of college football.

By the time Carter got to Jackson High as a ninth grader, everybody in the school system already knew who he was and what he could do on the football field. To start with, he was already 6-2, 270 pounds. And with his father as one of the assistant coaches, he had been positively unblockable in middle school.

So Jackson head coach Dary Myricks, then still an assistant for the now-retired Mike Parris, had an idea of what they were getting.

“Like most high school coaches, you keep an eye on your feeder school,” Myricks said. “But I just so happened to have known Michail since he was playing rec ball and watched him come through all those levels. That is a great thing about being in a small town like this; you get to see the kids grow and develop all the way through.

“He was one of those kids where you say, ‘can’t wait ’til he gets up here.’ But we didn’t really have plans to play him as a freshman.”

Michail did, however. There wasn’t really anyway to keep the big kid off the field.

If Michail Carter’s attire didn’t give away his decision on national signing day, the English bulldog he brought with him did. FAMILY PHOTO

While Red Devils’ defensive coordinator Mike Eakin wasn’t exactly hurting for defensive linemen, he was in a bit of a rebuilding mode on that side of the ball. Adding Carter to a mix that already included two seniors who would also play college ball — Justin Akins (Georgia Tech/Middle Tennessee) and Jay Woods (Vanderbilt) — solved a lot of problems.

“Those guys really took me under their wings and kind of showed me the way,” Michail Carter said of Akins and Woods. “They were three years older and helped me with the plays and technique and things like that. I didn’t just step in as a starter. I had to work my way up, and that’s why I got respect from the older guys.”

It was during that first year as a ninth-grade, varsity starter that Carter received his first scholarship offer. It came from Georgia and its defensive line coach at the time, Chris Wilson.

This is where Carter’s story gets particularly interesting. While he grew up always wanting to play for the Bulldogs, they didn’t make it easy on him. First of all, Wilson was the first of three D-line coaches they would employ while he was being recruited in high school. And then, every school under the sun came calling.

At the end of it all, Carter entertained more than 30 major-college scholarship offers. Among those was one from Alabama and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.

Then Georgia hit the Carters with what at the time seemed like a deal-breaker. The Bulldogs fired head coach Mark Richt, which also left the status of defensive line coach Tracy Rocker in limbo.

“I was kind of mad about that,” Michail said. “Not many coaches out there have 10-win seasons all the time. And we knew him to be a good man. But having Coach Smart come in really kind of neutralized me. And I really like Coach Rocker, so I really felt good when they kept him. I tried to stay grounded the whole time, but that kind of helped everything.”

High expectations in Athens

So now Carter arrives at UGA in kind of the same situation he showed at high school. That is, he shows up with a reputation that precedes him, bigger and in better shape than most of his age and experience.

And the Bulldogs could definitely use the help. Like Akins and Woods at Jackson, they have some excellent players already entrenched at his position in the form of junior John Atkins and sophomore Trent Thompson. But Georgia desperately needs some freshmen to come through and play and provide depth.

Those who watched the big kid develop over these last four or five years have no doubts Michail Carter will be up for the task.

“Here’s the way I look at it,” Myricks said. “What you’re looking for are intangibles. Michail is a guy who has them. Look at the way he was raised. He’s coachable. And he’s a guy who can bend. He has the ankle flex and the knee flex and the explosion. He’s not just big; he’s an athlete. That’s the difference.

“There’ll be some learning curves. But can he go in and help them right now. I think he can.”

Mom and Dad couldn’t be more thrilled with the situation. He’s at Georgia playing football, just like Michail predicted he would be in his fifth-grade English paper. And just like his father set out to make happen in the years before and after that.

“When he was born, I put a football and a book in his crib,” said Michael Carter, who had been working at the prison nearly a decade by then. “I wish I had a picture, but that’s what I did. And they stayed in there. I wanted him to play football and get an education. And that’s what happened.”

Said Meatrice Carter: “My emotions are kind of mixed. I’m sad to see him leave him, but I know that he’s turning into a young man. And I know he’s going to do well because it’s in his heart. Michail’s the type of kid who will put 150 percent in it. If there’s something he wants to do, he’ll work it out on his own.”

Just like all those Carters and Barlows and Taylors before him, they figure Michail Carter will do what he set out to do.

Next Generation is a series of profiles on the individuals who have signed on with the Georgia Bulldogs and will join the team this summer.

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