Jermaine Carter Jr. worried at times during his first two years with Maryland. A star linebacker at powerhouse Friendship Collegiate in Washington and a three-star recruit, Carter was on the sidelines for the first time in his career, only getting on the field for special teams or in spot duty because of injuries.
He was used to being on the field. And he wanted to be back on the field to contribute to the Terps.
In Maryland's 50-21 season opening win over Richmond on Saturday, Carter got that chance. The redshirt sophomore started at middle linebacker in defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski's scheme and made a career-high eight tackles to lead the Terps, and also had one tackle for loss. Carter said before the game that he felt the game was slowing down for him, and it showed in his performance.
"I feel like I did a good job," Carter said. "I missed one or two calls that was on me to make. Other than that, I think I did a pretty good job. You always aim to get better. There was a couple plays, I haven't watched the film yet, I probably messed up on a couple plays. We got to be better next week. that's why we watch film and practice."
This fall, Carter's challenge is to become a more vocal leader in the middle of the Terps defense. In August, Carter said he learned to lead by example from his father. But the vocal side of things, the rallying of the players around him, has taken more time to develop. And with a relatively young front seven replacing a bevy of starters, Carter could provide a steadying presence.
Last season, Carter appeared in all 13 games, mostly on special teams, and finished with 27 tackles and two forced fumbles, including one that set up a touchdown in Maryland's win at Penn State in November. Now he's making pre-snap calls and can have an impact on almost every play.
"He's just a dog," defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson said. "I don't know what else to say. He's an intelligent guy. He puts us in the right situation and man, I love playing with him. I know he's going to come downhill. He doesn't keep me on double teams too long, so it's fun. We got a lot of hungry guys that can make plays this year."
Carter got off to a fast start Saturday to announce his arrival with the Terps defense. He had three tackles on Richmond's second drive and had already set his career high by the time halftime rolled around.
Late in the second quarter, Richmond faced a 3rd and 13 from its own 22-yard line. Spiders quarterback Kyle Lauletta dropped back to pass and running back Jacobi Green leaked out of the backfield while the offensive line set up a screen pass. Carter read the play and shot through a gap to meet Green right when he caught Lauletta's pass three yards behind the line of scrimmage and snuff out any hope of a big gain.
"He's definitely a leader in the middle," Jefferson said. "He makes sure everybody's on the same page, make sure the calls echo, make sure everybody's in the right position. He's definitely the man for the spot, and I'm happy to be playing with him."
Carter said his increased presence was influenced by Maryland quarterback Perry Hills during camp. Locked in a three-way battle for the starting job for most of August, Hills asserted his control over the offense at the line of scrimmage every chance he had. As one of the quarterbacks of the defense, Carter had to raise his intensity to match Hills, who was moving the offense as quickly as he could to try to catch the defense off-guard.
"It's just something I had to work on to kind of force myself to do because it's something we need," Carter said Wednesday. "It's not fully there yet. I still have to work on it a little more. But I'm getting better and better and trying to help other guys be in the right position because I'm usually leading by example. It was needed for someone to speak up on defense, and we started to make strides and be better, and we're ready to go."
If the season opener was any indication, Carter's defensive career is off to a more than solid start. Edsall pointed out how active he was before snaps in trying to get the defense into the right position against Richmond's offense. He acquitted himself well both as a leader and as a player, and according to Edsall, it's just the start.
"He's only going to get better," Edsall said. "He hasn't even scratched the surface, in my opinion, of how good he can be. The more reps he gets, the more he plays, the more I think he can be a dominant player. We got to keep his head on straight. He can't let him get it overinflated, and he's got to keep working the way he's working and take pride in what he does. But I think he's going to be a good one."