Briar Woods alum Alex Carter and his Falcons huddle-up prior to the kick-off of their 2011 state championship victory. / Photo © Steven Holland/Viva Loudoun
Ashburn, VA (April 1, 2016) – Two high school state championships, one Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year award, a three-year starter in college and one Rose Bowl win in two appearances has all culminated in a spot on the Detroit Lions roster for Alex Carter.
The 6-foot, 196-pound cornerback graduated from Briar Woods in 2012 before joining the Stanford football program, where he spent three years on one of the most successful teams in Cardinal history. He ultimately decided to forego his senior season, declaring for the 2015 NFL Draft, and was drafted by the Lions in the third round with the 80th overall pick.
It was almost predestined that Carter would eventually land on an NFL roster. His father, Tom, was a first round draft pick by the Redskins in 1993 out of Notre Dame and spent nine years in the league with the Redskins, Bears and Bengals. Like Alex, Tom was also a defensive back.
“From a young age, I knew what I wanted to do already because of what my dad did,” Alex said. “Just seeing him on the field playing when I was young, I started to love the sport. He was always there to mentor me, he even put me in different sports just to see what I’d be interested in, but football was always my passion.”
Alex, 21, recalls being in the locker room and on the field with his dad a few times as a child in NFL stadiums, igniting his own passion to reach that stage one day.
“I didn’t realize as a kid how cool it was, it was just my dad’s job and I was going to work with dad,” Alex said, “but growing up and looking back on it, it was really cool.”
Despite reaching his destiny in 2015 with the Lions, it has been a bit of a rocky road for Carter since his career in the NFL began. He suffered an ankle injury in the preseason last year and was placed on the Injured Reserve list, a list he remained on throughout the season, never seeing the field as a rookie.
“It was tough sitting out all year from a sport that you love to play and you’ve played all your life,” Carter said, “but I had to keep my head on straight and soak up as much information as I could from the team meetings, watching practice and watching film. It was a learning year.”
Although his rookie year did not go as expected, he is eyeing big things in 2016.
“First and foremost, I expect to compete, give it my all, be 100 percent healthy, and to start next year, I’m in preparation for that mentally and physically, just getting ready,” Carter said. “It’s a really great group of guys, even though I didn’t play this past year, I’m excited to play this next year with them.”
Adversity on the gridiron is not something Carter is accustomed to, having achieved nothing but success throughout his journey both with Briar Woods and Stanford.
Carter transferred into the Briar Woods program in the winter 2008-09 as a freshman after spending the first quarter of the year at DeMatha in Hyattsville, Md. Not enjoying the travel from Ashburn each day and after suffering a knee injury, Carter made the switch to the Falcons program to stay closer to home and to play for Coach Charlie Pierce.
“Playing for Coach Pierce was awesome, I had seen what he had done in years previous with the team,” Carter said, “it was a lot of fun being able to play for him and being able to play alongside my best friends that I had grown up with all my life. He was just a really great coach and the atmosphere was electric at times.”
Thanks to the leadership of Coach Pierce and the bond among Carter and his teammates, the Falcons would go on to win the Virginia 5A State Championship in 2010 and 2011 while he was a junior and senior, amassing a dominant record of 27-3 over that span.
“It was just fun, that was the last time I truly had fun playing,” Carter said. “Being with all my best friends, you can just go out there and feel free. Once you get to the college and pro level it becomes a job, so it’s a little more difficult to have that kind of fun.”
The Falcons’ success did not end there, as they would complete the three-peat in 2012 even after Carter’s departure.
“The team really started building confidence in the system that we had and in our coaches and all the players around us, and once that confidence was built, we were rolling,” Carter said.
Carter’s individual statistics as a senior with the Falcons on both offensive and defense earned him the 2012 Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year award, given to the top football player in the state. With incredible numbers as a defensive back, wide receiver, running back and kick returner, Carter was a natural selection for the prestigious honor. He was also named the Dulles District Defensive Player of the Year and was selected to play in the 2012 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
In the middle of all his success, the Carter family underwent a terrible tragedy, as Alex’s sister, Cameron, passed away in her sleep from complications with Type I diabetes at the age of 14.
“It really made me care more deeply about family,” Carter said, “obviously I love football but it was just a game and it was temporary, and my family was the most important thing to me, so it made me look inwards at my family for support, both to receive it and to give it. But it also motivated me in my sport because my sister was a great athlete as well, so it motivated me to keep playing in honor of her name.”
According to Carter, winning the Gatorade Player of the Year award, among many other honors that year, helped get him through the incredibly rough times while mourning his sister.
“It was a very tremendous honor, especially in the midst of everything that was going on with my family, that kind of brightened up the mood,” Carter said. “I wasn’t expecting for that to happen, but when I won it, it was just huge for my family and for the school.”
Carter finished high school as a four-star recruit and one of the top ranked defensive backs in the 2012 class nationally, in addition to maintaining better than a 4.0 GPA, allowing him to attend an esteemed institution like Stanford.
“Stanford was pretty much the number one option really coming out of middle school,” he said. “My parents sat me down and discussed what my options would be. They didn’t want me to go to school just for football.”
Carter visited the school three times prior to joining the Cardinal program and was in love with the campus right away, committing in the summer prior to his junior year with Briar Woods. The defensive back prospect was recruited by Coach Jim Harbaugh, who left the program to coach the San Francisco 49ers, and was replaced by David Shaw. Even with the coaching change, Carter stuck with his commitment.
As a freshman with the Cardinal, he played in all 14 games, starting the last eight games of the season, including a 20-14 win over Wisconsin in the 2013 Rose Bowl. He racked up 46 tackles, including three tackles for loss, and led the team with three forced fumbles.
“Winning the Pac-12 Championship and then getting to go to the Rose Bowl, which is the ‘Granddaddy of them All,’ it was just awesome, the whole experience,” Carter said. “I had seen it on TV, but I didn’t really know how big it was. At the time it was just another game, but once it was over it become that much bigger.”
Carter kept his starting spot in the secondary as a sophomore, and the Cardinal didn’t wait long to return to the Rose Bowl as they reached it again 2014, however this time falling to Michigan State, 24-20, in the 100th playing of the game. Over the course of the season, he tallied 59 tackles, two tackles for loss, one interception, and a team-leading seven pass breakups.
He again started every game as a junior, finishing the year with 41 tackles, one interception, and a team-high nine pass breakups. The squad would go on to knock off Maryland in the 2015 Foster Farms Bowl, 45-21, marking his final collegiate game.
Carter then declared for the NFL Draft with the hopes of being taken off the board early.
“My expectation was that I was going to be a first or second round pick, I felt like that’s what my capabilities dictated,” he said, “but after those two rounds went by and my name wasn’t called it got pretty nerve-racking. We got the phone call about three hours into that second day and it was Detroit, I was just happy someone called and I was getting drafted.”
Although it will be nearly two years between live game action for Carter, he expects to be better than ever and in good health come the start of the season. He will be looking to help spark a Lions team that went 7-9 last season.
“Football always came pretty natural to me, it’s in my blood, it’s like riding a bike,” he said. “I feel like I’ll be even better because I’m more hungry. Sitting out a year really makes you miss it.”
Viva Loudoun: We Live For Loudoun™
Written by Josh Apple
Special to Viva Loudoun