Devastating injury, recovery forged Carter’s football path

It has been 23 years, but Perry Carter Sr. can recite nearly second by second the events that led to a life-changing moment on a football field in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

“I was playing with the Edmonton (then-)Eskimos, and they have a huge deal called the Labor Day Classic, which is a rivalry game with the Calgary Stampeders. It’s the 2000 Labor Day Classic matchup and (Calgary) has a couple of nice receivers who were all-world in Allen Pitts and Travis Moore …”

It was a one-on-one matchup against Moore late in that 2000 game that forever altered Carter’s outlook and his right leg, leaving more than the visible scar that extends up his ankle.

“Right before the game, it had rained, and we were playing on turf. I think I wore the wrong-bottomed shoes. They were really sticking (in the turf). I thought, with my ability, it will be OK. It was a passing situation, and they isolated Travis on one side. Me, as a corner, my film study, knowing any time they isolate a receiver, they want to take a shot.”

And take a shot the Stampeders did, challenging Carter, currently in his first season as Northwestern State’s cornerbacks coach, with a go route up the Calgary sideline.

“I pressed (Moore). I wasn’t going to give him any room. I took the timing away and had nice, tight coverage. I wanted to force the quarterback to make a nice, tight throw. Sure enough, the ball is in the air. I look up and the ball is coming to Travis. I had really good coverage on him. Normally, the receiver is taught to stack the DB, get on top of him. I was able to get on top of Travis and stack him.”

As Carter and Moore raced down the sideline tracking the ball, neither had any idea of what the ensuing seconds would bring for Carter.

“As the ball was coming down, I was in the front position. I reached up to catch the ball over my shoulder like a receiver. Remember, we’re running full speed. I remember reaching my hands up, and by the time the ball hit my hands and I bring it in for an interception, I don’t know if Travis was reaching over to become a defender and knock the ball out of my hand, but somehow, his hand got caught under the crown of my helmet. Remember, I told you I had the sticky shoes on the turf, well he snatches me and everything stops from going full speed. My foot got caught in the turf, and I guess all the momentum kept going forward. That wasn’t good.”

Saying what happened wasn’t good for Carter was an understatement. What happened to his foot far surpassed the level of injury most are accustomed to seeing on a football field.

For a player who “has broken everything from ankle to shoulder, literally,” this injury hit differently to the point where it looked like something out of a graphic novel.

“It was like my foot was on backward. The heel was in the air, but the toes were pointing toward the ground.”

The damage was so severe and gruesome it brought both athletic training staffs onto the field and forced them to find a way to shield Carter from seeing how his lower leg looked.

Following the injury, Carter was transported to an ambulance where he heard a few words that shook him to his core.

“They drove me to the ambulance and put me in. They were trying to turn my foot back again. It wouldn’t stay. After that, about a minute or so later, it really hit me this is pretty serious. One of the doctors called the hospital, which was about five or 10 minutes away. He called and said, ‘Hey, I’m calling for amputation of the right foot. The artery’s been pinched off, and there is no circulation. We’ll need to amputate immediately, so it won’t poison the body.’ Right before he made the call, they were thumping the tips of my toes to see if I could feel it. Of course, I didn’t have any feeling. All I felt was pain. They were sticking my toes, but I couldn’t feel anything. That’s when he called for amputation. At that point, I’m thinking, ‘Am I ever going to play again? How am I going to tell my wife? Am I going to be able to play with my kids?’”

Thankfully, the large scope of the Calgary-Edmonton rivalry – as well as one of Canada’s most popular sports, hockey – provided Carter with the timely assist he needed.

“As they back out the ambulance to go around, I heard a knock on the back of the door. They open the door and standing there is a short guy. I can’t remember if he was a German doctor or a Canadian doctor, but he said, ‘I hear we have a young man here with a – he had some fancy name for it. They were like, ‘Yeah.” He said, ‘I performed a couple of these surgeries, but I’ve only seen this injury in hockey players.’ They didn’t come back to play, but at least they had some quality of life. He went in and did something. Then when he thumped my toe, I felt a sensation. I said, ‘I feel a sensation.’ He said, ‘Let’s do it again.’ They got my foot wrapped in a position to where I had sensation in my toe.”

After reaching the Calgary hospital, the medical staff worked to get Carter transported back to Edmonton – roughly a three-hour drive – surrounding him with doctors and medical personnel to keep his foot positioned correctly.

Two days later, at 5 a.m., Carter had surgery to repair the dislocation of his ankle, his ruptured artery and a spiral break of his tibia that ran from his ankle to his knee.

Carter came out of the surgery – and a subsequent procedure to remove the screws from his ankle – with a scar and a plate that, to this day, can set off certain metal detectors based on their sensitivity.

After nearly a year’s worth of rehabilitation, Carter returned to Edmonton and played another two seasons in the CFL, realizing he was not in his pre-injury form.

While the door closed on his professional football career, the injury provided Carter with an outlook on life and football that transcends generations and has allowed him to build a nearly two-decade-long coaching career.

“With what he’s had to overcome to get to where he’s at, you want him right beside you,” said sixth-year head coach Brad Laird, who asked Carter to share his story with the Demons’ players and coaches during a preseason team gathering. “For him to share his message on what he went through to sustain his success in the NFL and CFL, I didn’t realize what he went through. It shows you what continuing to work hard and overcoming adversity – and he was hit from every direction – he was able to bounce back and step back up and move forward. Some of those days, he wasn’t moving much, but he was moving forward. It was good for our coaches and players to hear.”

Carter’s time speaking with his new team introduced them to the human side of one of the Demons’ five new assistant coaches. It also allowed their bond to strengthen quickly – once they all picked their respective jaws from the proverbial floor.

“I was pretty high on Coach P already, but once I saw how passionate he is and how much he cares, it made me want to go out there and play even harder for him,” said sophomore cornerback Anthony Richard Jr., who transferred from Harding ahead of the spring semester. “It made me proud to be part of his room and his group.

“The corners we have now and the group atmosphere, the environment, the brotherhood we’ve created is second to none. Coach P is like our dad. We’re just a bunch of brothers who want to go out and play for each other and play for him.”

Carter’s injury was a subject of an episode of Fox Sports Net’s “You’ve Gotta See This.” During that show, Carter held his son, Perry Jr., who now is a wide receiver at Jacksonville State.

The injury that nearly took his right foot made Carter appreciative of the game in a way he had not before. He also made sure to exercise that once-injured ankle while helping Perry Jr. chase his own football dreams.

And that has been the biggest payoff for a man who owns a Grey Cup championship and an eight-year playing career in the two most prominent professional football leagues in the world.

Carter Sr. was able to see his son play in Jacksonville State’s Week 0 opener this season and may have another opportunity to do so Saturday, which is the Demons’ lone open week of the 2023 season.

Carter Jr. and Jacksonville State host Eastern Michigan on Saturday, leaving the potential for another father-son football moment to form.

“It’s priceless,” Carter Sr. said of helping mold his son as a player. “There’s not enough money in the world you can pay to have that moment. A lot of times, I didn’t see my kids until a Friday and we lived in the same house. I’d leave before daylight in the morning, and when I got home, it was dark and they were asleep. In the offseason, he comes home and I train him. We do receiver drills and DB drills. It’s a dream come true as far as the bond he and I have. He has my name. He’s a Junior.

“To see him play and live out his dream is priceless. Remember when I thought, ‘How am I going to play with my kids?’ It’s a dream come true as far as the time and the bond he and I have.”