First and Goal with Darnell Carter
Senior linebacker Darnell Carter and the Virginia Cavaliers are coming off a 24-19 upset of No. 22 Miami that saw him tie for the team high with eight tackles against the Hurricanes. The Englewood, N.J., native recently sat down with VirginiaSports.com to discuss the first signature win of Mike London’s UVa coaching tenure, the fans storming the field after the win, his new lease on life in London’s program and the desire to keep winning football games in the quest for a bowl bid.
Question: Saturday’s upset over No. 22 Miami marked the team’s first ACC victory in over a year and the first against a ranked opponent this season. What are your thoughts on getting the big win at home?
Carter: It was a tremendous team win in all phases. We did a lot of strong preparation and we stayed focus. Our new season started last week. It was just a great team win, and it was exciting to be a part of it.
Question: The fans rushed the field after the game. How did it feel to be on the field for that?
Carter: It was pretty exciting. It was actually the first time I’ve ever been apart of an opportunity like that. It was great to see all of our fans out there. I gave everyone hugs and high fives.
Question: Going back to before the game started, the team entered the stadium a little differently this past week-walking out of the tunnel together instead of running. Whose decision was that?
Carter: That was Coach London’s decision. He instills in us that we are all we have, we stick together, we play for the person next to us, and we play for our teammates. It was just our way of showing that we’re together-no matter if we’re losing or winning, we’re all still together. I feel like that helped us a lot through this last game. It was a good team game on both sides and on special teams.
Question: You certainly contributed to that effort, tying for a team high with eight tackles against the Hurricanes. While you started at middle linebacker against Miami, you have also played in the outside linebacker spot this season. What’s the difference between the two positions?
Carter: I started out inside and played there the last few seasons. Inside is just about more action and taking on more blocks. I feel like you need to be a little bigger inside in order to take on the guards and the center. Basically, you have to run sideline to sideline. As an outside backer, it’s a little different. There’s more running through gaps, covering receivers, and watching backs coming out of the backfield. It’s just about dealing a little more in space. Inside, you’re right in the middle of everything.
Question: Was there anything you had to work on during the offseason to prepare for that switch from inside to outside to start the season?
Carter: Actually, no. After spring ball, they just put me on the outside on the depth chart, so when I came in the first day for training camp, I saw I was listed on the outside. I didn’t really know before that. I just had to adjust to it from there. Then a couple of weeks ago when Coach London said he was going to try me back at the Mike linebacker spot it took me a little while to get back to it, but it’s definitely my more comfortable position. It’s where I played in high school.
Question: Speaking of Coach London, how has he helped you since taking over the program last December?
Carter: On an individual level, he’s done a lot for me. He brought me back on the team. He gave me another try-another chance-which I thought was great. He had faith in me, he trusted me. I really appreciate him for that, because he didn’t have to do it. I really respect Coach London as a man, just the way he coaches and the way he goes about things.
Question: You mentioned Coach London gave you the opportunity to return to the team for a fifth-year. What went into that decision?
Carter: He talked to me in the spring after I just had surgery. He gave me a set of standards that I had to achieve academically. He told me if I handled everything as far as academics were concerned-if I kept my grades up-he’d let me back on the team.
Question: Did he outline any goals in particular?
Carter: He gave me a specific GPA I had to achieve. I had to attend all classes and all study halls, and I couldn’t get any bad remarks from anyone-just good remarks.
Question: You missed the 2008 season because of academic problems, but do you think you have learned from that experience?
Carter: Definitely. I was just a little immature coming into college. Now I’ve really settled down and understand that you have to do your work and stay focused. It was me being a little bit young before. I’m older now and see it a little differently.
Question: Now that you have matured and are a senior, do you feel as though it is your responsibility to make sure the younger guys on the team are aware of their academics and don’t run into a similar problem?
Carter: Absolutely. I do that with my position players and also with recruits that come in now. I tell them that it’s going to be hard coming into your first season. You’ve got to stay focused, learn how to say ‘no,’ – don’t put too much on your plate and have good time management.
Question: A lot of athletes mention time management as the biggest challenge in going from high school to college. Do you agree?
Carter: It’s definitely the toughest part. You’ve got to know when to read and study and to not do things like go out or go on Facebook or play video games. You have to learn how to say ‘no.’
Question: Coach London often says that some players on the team feel as though they have a “new lease on life” this season. Do you think that idea applies to the linebacking corps?
Carter: Absolutely. Coach London brought us all back. Guys like me and [Aaron Taliaferro] didn’t play too much during our career here, but he brought in a new defense that we are more comfortable in. It’s more our style of defense. He brought life back into us, and we’re having fun again.
Question: Now that the team has gotten past Miami, there are only four games left in the season. Does it seem like your senior year has gone by fast thus far?
Carter: Yes, it does. It hit me the other day-after this last game-knowing I only have one more home game. It went really fast. That’s why we’ve got to win out so we can get to a bowl game.
Question: Is there anything you feel you have left to accomplish before your career at Virginia is over?
Carter: Honestly, I just want to win and keep playing as long as I can. I want to go to a bowl game. I’ve been there once, but I didn’t really play too much. I want to go to again and get significant playing time and be apart of it. I want the chance to play again.
Question: Moving on to the “quick hit” questions-where do you go for a late night snack?
Carter: I don’t really eat late at night.
Question: Favorite TV show when you were young?
Question: If you had to describe yourself in one word, what would it be?
Question: Best present you’ve ever received?
Carter: My TV.
Question: First job?
Carter: Camp counselor.
Question: If you could play in any stadium, where would you want to play?
Carter: Michigan Stadium.