HOUSTON — As soon you exit George Bush International Airport and head toward the Houston Beltway, signs are everywhere pointing the way to Austin. A lot of people take 290 West and go that way.
Toneil Carter chose to go another direction.
One of the top running backs in Texas, Carter long ago made up his mind to go east to Georgia. And the Houston resident is sticking with that decision, despite a last-ditch effort by the home-state Longhorns to sway Carter back their way.
Now led by former Houston head coach Tom Herman, the University of Texas made another run at Carter recently. They wanted him to give them another look on an official visit this past weekend. And for a time, it looked like Carter might do that.
But when it came time to do it, Carter said no thanks. Or specifically, his older brother/legal guardian Byron Carter told them no. So Herman was spurned a second time.
“One thing I learned through this whole process was the commit to the school and not the coaches,” Carter explained Monday from the Lobos’ team meeting room at Langham High. “I’m already committed to Georgia and I love the place. It’s where I always wanted to go. (Texas) just wanted me to come back up there and see the campus and meet all the new coaches. My brother finally flat-out told him they had no chance, so they just called the whole thing off.”
After completing final exams in economics and world government this week Carter will graduate from Langham Creek High School on Friday. He will report to UGA as an early enrollee on Jan. 2, one day after he plays in the Under Armour All-America Game.
I was visiting Carter on Monday here in the Cypress area of Houston he calls home. He will be the subject of an upcoming Next Generation profile. The first installment for the Class of 2017 on Jake Fromm was published earlier Monday.
Carter had seen more than enough of Texas during his initial stages of recruiting, which started very early in his high school career. He received his first major college scholarship offer in the spring of his ninth-grade year from Texas Tech. And he has known Herman for years as the hometown Cougars repeatedly pitched Carter on the advantages of staying home.
So there was really nothing new for Carter to see. With that little 11th-hour bit of drama behind him, there’s now nothing but Georgia on Carter’s mind.
“I could just never imagine myself playing in that burnt orange,” joked Carter, who ironically has a tinge of burnt-orange in his hair at the moment. “Austin’s just not for me. It does have its pros, as well its cons, but I just couldn’t see myself staying in Texas.”
That’s what it really came down to for this native Louisianan. Carter and his family ended up here after Hurricane Katrina swept away their home in the Uptown area of New Orleans in 2005. And Houston has been good for them as a family.
But when it comes to football, for Carter it was really about playing in the SEC. So out of a heap of scholarship offers, Carter quickly narrowed it down to three from that conference — Georgia, LSU and Texas A&M. He committed to the Bulldogs this past summer.
“I didn’t want to settle for anything else,” Carter said. “The SEC has all the top athletes, and I wanted to go compete with them.”
That’s what is going on in Texas at the moment. Long known as a Big 12 state, and the Southwest Conference before that, it increasingly is sending a high percentage of its rich crop of football prospects. LSU has always had a strong recruiting presence in the state, and Houston in particular. And, of course Texas A&M joining the league only enhanced the SEC’s presence in the state, along with the SEC Network’s ever-growing beacon.
“Nobody around here talks about the Big 12 anymore,” said Todd Thompson, head coach at Langham Creek and a graduate of Rice University. “If you listen to the kids, it’s all about the SEC now.”
In the end, though, it was the Bulldogs’ tailback tradition that won him over.
“One night I was sitting in my room and I turned on my TV and a 30-for-30 came on with Herschel Walker,” said Carter, repeating a story he previously shared with DawgNation’s Jeff Sentell. “It was an amazing piece on how he used to race trains and stuff like that. That touched me. He went to Georgia and then I started to do my research on Georgia and found out about Knowshon Moreno and Todd Gurley and all those other great backs that went there.”
After establishing career records at Langham Creek in rushing yards (3,838) and scoring (350 points), the Bulldogs believe they might have another one.