Staff Photo: John Bohn South Gwinnett linebacker Reggie Carter is back for his senior year after injuring his knee during last season. Carter is committed to the University of Georgia and is one of the top linebackers in the state.
It's been more than a year, but South Gwinnett linebacker Reggie Carter can still describe the play like it happened last week.
"They moved me to outside and it was a buck slant," Carter said. "There was space between me and the guard, so I tried to close it and squeeze down. But when I planted, it just gave out."
'It' was Carter's knee.
On the 10th play of the first game of the season last year, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Carter tore his ACL against state power Lowndes, ending a promising junior year before it ever began.
Carter heard a pop and when he went to the sideline, the trainer was unable to diagnose the injury right away.
"I didn't think it was anything serious," Carter said.
After the game he went to Eastside Medical Center for tests that determined his ACL was torn. As one of the state's top linebacker recruits, emotions quickly set in for Carter.
"I cried," Carter said. "I just kept thinking it couldn't be happening to me. It was crazy. Then my mom cried. Then my dad told me no more crying when you leave the hospital. Ever since then I've been working hard."
After months of therapy and rehabilitation, Carter is back on the field for the Comets. He was the main cog missing on a defense that allowed 34 points a game last year. With Carter back at linebacker this fall, South has a defense that could help put the team in the playoffs for the third time in four years.
"Having him back makes a big difference," South head coach John Small said.
Carter remained involved with the team despite his injury last year. He went to therapy in the afternoon and returned in time for practice. He was involved with the play calls and was a fixture on the sidelines on Friday night's.
"It was a long process," Carter said. "I had times when I felt like I was down and stuff. My teammates motivated me and kept me going."
Carter went through spring and preseason drills with a bit of trepidation. He would stay away from piles when the defense swarmed to a ball carrier.
"It had its ups and downs," Carter said. "I was still kind of holding myself back."
It wasn't until the first game of the year against Norcross that Carter was finally able to play without fear.
"Against Norcross, on the fifth play of the game, they ran a stretch play and my knee, I guess I was hearing stuff," Carter said. "I told Marquise (Parker) 'Man, I don't know.' He told me you're going to have to play through that. Ever since then, it helped me pick it up."
Carter posted 20 tackles in his return to the football field. He followed that up with nine tackles against Duluth, 12 tackles, one sack, forced fumbled against Dacula, nine against Shiloh and nine against Central Gwinnett.
"I want to average at least 15 tackles a game each week," Carter said.
The scary part about all that is he's not even 100 percent healthy.
"I don't think he's back yet. He's probably 80 percent," Small said. "I don't think he'll back to 100 percent for another year. He's healthy and able to play, but he's getting to be Reggie more and more every day. The sky is the limit for the kid."
When Carter transferred from Stephenson to South Gwinnett prior to his junior year, he was one of the most recruited players in the state. He had nearly a dozen scholarship offers, but his knee injury made some schools skeptical.
Georgia offered Carter after he injured his knee and he committed to the Bulldogs in April over finalists South Carolina and Florida State.
"I think he felt comfortable with Georgia because they offered him when he was hurt. They knew the deal," Small said. "They knew the kind of player he was. I think that spoke volumes to him because he knew they were in his corner from Day 1."
The rest of the county is getting to see what kind of player Carter is this season. He's fifth in the county in tackles with 62 stops this year to go along with two sacks.
"He can do a lot of things," Small said. "He can rush the passer. He can play pass coverage, he can run sideline to sideline, he can play the field. He's a very versatile kid."
It's Carter's success this year that makes Small smile from ear-to-ear when he talks about the linebacker.
"He has all the intangibles -- great student, great leader, great character," Small said. "It's fun to see guys like him succeed because he's such a good kid."