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Once an afterthought, linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. will leave Maryland among school's leading tacklers

Coming out of high school school in 2013, linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. was in the shadow of Friendship Collegiate Academy teammates Yannick Ngakoue, Derwin Gray and Cavon Walker when they all signed with Maryland.

Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell, then with ESPN, thought the Terps were getting a steal with Carter.

“I think the guy that made a lot of plays when I saw him was Jermaine Carter,” Farrell said. “He’s not the tallest linebacker in the world, but he just made every tackle. A lot of people pay attention to Cavon Walker on that team, but I think Jermaine Carter was the heart and soul of that defense.”

As Carter and Walker end their college careers Saturday at Penn State — Ngakoue left for the NFL before the 2016 season, and Gray’s arrival was delayed by a year he spent in prep school — the same thing can be said now about the player his family still calls “Pee Wee.”

With a team-high 79 tackles — eight ahead of sophomore nickel back and safety Antoine Brooks — Carter is on the verge of becoming only the fifth player in school history to lead the Terps in tackles three straight years, joining E.J. Henderson and D’Qwell Jackson among others.

Though Carter is not considered the kind of destructive force at middle linebacker that many coaches crave, his durability and consistency stand out. He has started 36 straight games and has made at least seven tackles 23 times during that stretch.

Asked what Carter has meant to the program, second-year Maryland coach DJ Durkin said: “I couldn’t sit here and say enough good things about Jermaine. … I could go all day. He’s a tremendous leader, tremendous person. A very good football player. He’s been highly productive.

“When you’re trying to get a whole team to kind of head in a direction and fit a certain mold of competitiveness, of work ethic, of trust, of accountability — as you try to build a program, he’s the example of that. He plays championship-level football every week. He really does.”

It doesn’t seem to matter to Carter that Maryland has barely been a bowl team in two of his four years, and 2017 will mark the second time in three years that the Terps will have failed to receive a bid. He does concede that he is proud of leading the team in tackles for three years.

“It means a lot to me,” Carter said Tuesday. “I’ve got a lot of self-pride. I want to be that guy to lead in every defensive category. Tackling, that’s what a linebacker is supposed to do. He’s supposed to get the ball on the ground. I take that as a big responsibility.”

Carter, who is coming off a season-high 12 tackles in last week’s 17-7 loss at then-No. 22 Michigan State, including his fourth forced fumble of the season (tied for third in Football Bowl Subdivision), showed his potential in his first college game.

Getting some playing time late in a 52-7 win over James Madison in the 2014 season opener, the redshirt freshman forced a fumble after running back Alden Hill had caught a pass.

“The JMU play is very fresh in my mind, because it was the first tackle of my college career, and it happened to be a forced fumble, so I was happy for that,” Carter said.

Before the Penn State game that season, Maryland assistant coach Andre Powell told Carter he was going to make a big play and pointed to a spot on the field where he’d do it. With the Terps trailing 16-10 in the fourth quarter, Carter forced a fumble on a kickoff that led to the go-ahead touchdown. Maryland eventually won, 20-19.

Carter wouldn’t mind getting another win over the NIttany Lions on Saturday.

“I would definitely like to go out with a win for my teammates, because I’ve had the experience from when we went to Penn State and beat Penn State,” Carter said. “I want the same for the young guys on the team. I want them to be able to say they beat Penn State.”

Just as when he was coming out of high school, Carter is not considered among the Big Ten’s top NFL prospects.

“Being underrated, it motivates me,” Carter said. “It keeps a chip on my shoulder. It puts a different fire in me. When I’m playing on the field, I never forget everyone who doubted me. That’s why I play the way I do. I play as hard as I can just to show the people that I could do what they said I couldn’t do.”

Carter has made 395 tackles since that first one against James Madison, and he will leave No. 8 on the school’s all-time list that was started in 1969. For Durkin, Carter’s value to the program goes way beyond the number of tackles he makes.

“Just comes to work every day, has bought in to what we’re doing as a program, and really, really has been a good example of what we’re talking about,” Durkin said Tuesday. “So he’ll definitely be a guy that we’ll miss around here. He’s had, in his own right, although he hasn’t equated maybe as many wins as he would’ve wanted or any of us would’ve wanted, he’s had a tremendous career here.”

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