Alouettes’ Duron Carter has hall-of-fame shoes to fill

Duron Carter. (Graham Hughes/CP)

As his son literally and figuratively climbs above the crowd during a brief but spectacular rookie season with the Alouettes, Cris Carter couldn’t be more proud.

Knowing the challenges his son Duron has faced—sharing both a last name and a position with his Pro Football Hall of Famer father, as well as overcoming academic issues in university that came close to ruining his pro career—it’s easy to understand the joy Cris Carter is feeling. His son is a survivor.

Since his first game with the Als on August 22, Duron Carter has displayed some of the same qualities his father routinely demonstrated in his brilliant, 16-year NFL career.

In six CFL games, Duron has posted 29 catches for 529 yards, averaging 15.2 yards per reception, and four touchdowns. Two games ago against Hamilton he caught nine passes for 112 yards. Last week against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, he hauled in six for 152, including one catch in which he leaped high above two defenders and held on to the ball through hard contact with the ground. It was the kind of highlight-reel play that helped establish his father as one of the greatest pass-catchers in NFL history.

Duron Carter looked to be a clone of his father in high school, recording 14 touchdown catches as a senior and receiving scholarship offers from the top universities. He chose Ohio State, where his father starred en route to the NFL. But that’s where the similarities between father and son end.

Duron cracked the roster as a true freshman, dressing for 12 games and catching 13 passes for 176 yards and one touchdown. He missed the team’s Rose Bowl game because of academic reasons, which would become a recurring theme through the next three years of his university and college career. He transferred to a community college in Kansas in his sophomore season and the following year transferred to the University of Alabama. He practiced but did not play for the powerhouse as they won the national championship, then transferred again the following year to Florida Atlantic University, a smaller school without much of a profile. He struggled academically at every stop.

The NCAA did not bend over to accommodate Carter despite his petitions. It did not care about his lineage nor did it make exceptions. Duron Carter was a kid with a pedigree and tons of talent, but with an uncertain future.

A couple of NFL tryouts didn’t yield any significant interest, so he came to Canada because the Alouettes’ general manager, Jim Popp, had been tracking the youngster for years. When the Als offered Duron a multi-year deal, his father advised him to go north.

“I thought it was the best thing for him,” the elder Carter said this week. “I knew he couldn’t sit out another year without playing. It’s been three years since he played in a game and getting some experience was going to be the key to keep his dream alive.”

The Als had a veteran receiving corps, so Duron began the season on the practice roster. Five games into the campaign, Popp fired rookie head coach Dan Hawkins and replaced him on an interim basis. Injuries to the receiving corps provided an opportunity for Duron to play and he’s made the most of it.

“They were able to see the type of ability that he had,” Cris said. “It’s not like it was a fluke. He has that type of ability and he’s still very young. It’s a very odd situation. It’s not the way you would draw it up, but if you stick with it, you keep persevering and you get the right opportunity.

“Over the last couple years he’s made poor decisions and it led to him not being able to play football. Right now he’s doing the right things. He’s missed out on some big games, great opportunities and he realizes that, but he really loves football. To see him out there doing something he loves to do…that’s the thing that probably gives me the most amount of pleasure.”

The son’s success comes in a year in which his father co-authored a book—Going Deep: How Wide Receivers Became the Most Compelling Figures in Pro Sports—and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Carter interviewed some of the greatest receivers, both retired and still active, to explain how the combination of personality and talent—as well as the evolution of the passing game in the NFL over the past two decades—have made receivers so intriguing.

He did not include anything about his son in the book, but what Duron has accomplished could provide interesting material for an added chapter, one about overcoming the burden of sharing a name with a legend.

“It’s not really fair to even think that someone should have to follow in someone else’s footsteps,” he said. “We think about it in sports, but in other walks of life do we put that on someone to follow their parents, whether they are a lawyer, a doctor, a painter? In sports we think automatically a person should be a great athlete because their parents were great athletes. If you choose the same sport and the same position, it’s probably the hardest. You’re not getting a fair shot or opportunity just because of your name compared to your ability.”

In Montreal and in the CFL, Duron Carter is making a name for himself beyond just being Cris Carter’s son.

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