During Monday afternoon’s football practice at Fort Mill High School a 6-foot-4, 264-pound athlete surveyed the field, then took a shotgun snap. He fired passes and ran the option handoff from the quarterback position. The guy bore an uncanny resemblance to York Comprehensive quarterback Deshaw Andrews.
Of course it was not Andrews. It was Mario Carter, Fort Mill’s wide receivers coach who also runs the Jackets’ scout team.
“My duty on the scout team is to prepare our defense for the main skill player that we will be seeing in our next game,” said Carter, a 24-year-old former N.C. State football player in his first full year on the Fort Mill coaching staff.
This week’s primary focus for the Jacket defense is the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Andrews. The senior has thrown for over 2300 yards and 23 touchdowns, while piloting the Cougars to a No. 6 4A state ranking. Andrews will lead York (8-1, 3-1 in Region 3-4A) into Bob Jones Stadium Friday to square off against Fort Mill (7-2, 3-1) in a decisive region matchup between two teams currently tied for second place. Hence, Carter’s imitation.
“Coach Geiler is a master of studying film and everything is drawn up on a card for me to run the scout team. It so happens that this week it’s Mr. Andrews,” Carter said.
“Coach Geiler” is Bill Geiler, Fort Mill’s defensive coordinator whom Carter credits with getting him a job with the Jackets. Geiler coached Carter at Charlotte’s Independence High School.
“It really helps to have Mario here to simulate what an opposing player will do,” Geiler said. “And it’s good to have a younger guy on our staff that can relate to the kids. But he doesn’t make it easy for them.”
Coaching was always the next step for Carter, whose playing career was stunted by injuries. The Pittsburgh, Pa., native recalled his initial setback at Independence.
“I tore the ACL, MCL, LCL, and a partial artery in my right knee during a scrimmage before my senior year,” said Carter. “It happened on a screen play against Charlotte Catholic while I had my leg planted.”
Carter was a dominant tight end playing for Independence in the midst of that school’s string of seven straight state titles and 109 consecutive wins under head coach Tommy Knotts, and Geiler, who was the head man for one of the championships.
Despite the injury setback, the ninth-rated tight end by ESPN’s class of 2008 was awarded a full scholarship to play football at N.C. State. Carter redshirted as a freshman while recovering from the knee injury but, after a year of laborious rehab, the fickle hand of fate struck again.
“My second year I tore the same ligaments (but not the artery) in my left knee, which caused me to battle knee issues throughout my sophomore and junior years, “ Carter said.
He battled nicks and bruises his senior year, but in Carter’s words, “I went off.” After catching 12 passes his first four years at N.C. State, Carter caught 34 balls as a fifth-year senior in 2012, racking up 367 yards and two touchdowns, and reigniting his NFL possibilities. That success resulted in a look from the Houston Texans and a tryout with the Green Bay Packers. Carter stayed in playing condition by working out at a local YMCA, but he was not called back by Green Bay, nor did he get any calls from other NFL teams. After a year in limbo, Carter moved on with his life.
That led him to a spot on coach Ed Susi’s staff at Fort Mill. Carter seems to fit right in, his age making him a conduit between the older coaching staff and the players. Donning warm-up pants and a gray Wolfpack Football t-shirt, Carter cut and darted all over the field during Monday’s practice. As Geiler looked on, he reflected back on his days coaching Carter.
“He really matured through the years (at Independence) as a blocker and he wanted the ball,” Geiler said. “We use him now as a (scout team) quarterback, safety, or tight end because he is so big. He makes the kids work hard and we hope it’s going to help against Deshaw.”
Friday night’s result will determine the final grade for Carter’s Deshaw Andrews cameo. It could be humbling to imitate a high school quarterback after coming so near to the NFL, but the young coach is pleased with his current lot, especially breaking into the coaching game on the same sideline as one of his mentors, Geiler. Fort Mill’s excellent season has been a cherry topping.
“We are doing well so far,” said Carter. “We turn a new page every week as we get better and better, but we still have our goals out there ahead of us.”
The budding coach could have been talking about himself.