Clemson football: Once overlooked, Ryan Carter has become invaluable

When guys come out of high school, you usually hear about how they have a “chip on their shoulder.” It’s become a pretty standard cliche, because it seems like nearly every player to suit up across the country is said to have one.

Ryan Carter, on the other hand, is one of the few who can actually say he does have one.

The fifth-year senior in his second season as a starting cornerback for Clemson has proven how valuable he is to his team, but it took awhile for him to get there.

Carter is only 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, and he didn’t get much attention coming out of Grayson High School (Ga.). If you just took a look at his recruiting profile, it’d be a wonder how he ended up being a starter on a national championship team.

Per the 247Sports composite, he was just a 2-star recruit, the 216th-ranked cornerback in the country. Just six schools offered him — in addition to Clemson, he held offers from Tulane, Arkansas State, East Carolina, Southern Miss and Georgia State. It doesn’t necessarily fit the typical profile for a recruit to have an offer from Clemson in addition to a handful of lower-tier programs, but that’s never been how Dabo Swinney operates.

“When we saw Ryan Carter, and we really watched the tape, our response was, ‘This kid’s a baller. This guy is a baller, man. I mean, he can play,’” Swinney said at his Tuesday press conference. “I watched him on a kickoff coverage, he ran down Dalvin Cook. I went, ‘Whoa,’ because I love Dalvin Cook. He’s an awesome football player, and I’m sitting here going, ‘Do y’all see this kid?’

“He was returning punts, he played safety. [Clemson safeties coach] Mickey Conn was there. … Mickey was like, ‘Coach, this guy’s a frickin baller. I’m just telling you … this guy can play.’ I’m like, ‘I think so too. What am I missing here?’”

Carter eventually enrolled at Clemson and redshirted in 2013, which he said was a valuable experience. The lack of attention in high school weighed on his mind, and it was hard for him to actually let himself accept that the Clemson coaches wanted him because they believed in him; Swinney said he hit a “wall” before becoming who he has been over the past two years.

But they stuck with Carter, which has paid dividends.

“Just knowing he’d always believed in me as a player ever since I was in high school,” Carter said, per TheClemsonInsider. “I know a lot of people didn’t believe in me or think I would have a chance to play at this level. So just knowing that he believed in me and that I would develop into a good player is very beneficial for me to hear that.”

In his first season as a full-time starter in 2016, Carter played in 15 games — 13 of which were starts — and he earned the team’s Iron Man award. In five games this year, Carter has recorded 12 tackles and broken up 4 passes, including 2 against Virginia Tech.

Swinney acknowledged that, yes, sometimes when they recruit guys who haven’t drawn as much attention, they miss. But other times, they hit the target right in the center.

Carter is living proof of that.

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