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Carter still has his bruises


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POSTED: Thursday, July 16, 2009

It's been more than 17 years and Michael Carter can still feel the jolt shooting through his torso.

Then a sophomore quarterback, Carter played nearly the entire 1991 season with a painful rib injury, and whether he'd play in Hawaii's finale against Notre Dame was in doubt.

Carter did indeed start against the Fighting Irish, and with the Rainbow Warriors trailing early in the fourth quarter, he rolled to his left and found open field ahead. Only a safety camped just outside the end zone separated him from six.

Carter opted for the direct route, and the crunching collision left him doubled over and forced him out of the game. But not before he took the ball — and the defender — over the goal line.

“;It felt like a big dagger,”; Carter said. “;That was one of the hardest hits I've ever taken. That was a stalemate. He was going full speed from about 10 yards back and I was 20 yards away and we just met at the goal line.”;

The touchdown sparked a spirited, though ultimately futile, fourth-quarter rally and the Irish escaped with a 48-42 win. But Carter's final snap of 1991 seemed to set the tone for Hawaii's triumphant 1992 season, when he directed the Rainbows to their first Western Athletic Conference championship.

“;That whole game gave a lot of the young players the inspiration and the belief that we could play with national-level teams,”; Carter said. “;I truly do believe that it did carry over into the next year. It brought all the guys that were coming back a lot closer and willing to work for a common goal.”;

Carter wasn't the fastest quarterback to play for the Rainbows, nor did he have the strongest arm around. But he possessed the decision-making skills required to operate Paul Johnson's triple-option attack and a willingness to absorb the punishment that came with the job.

“;He'd get smacked just about every play,”; said Darrick Branch, a UH receiver in the early 1990s. “;He had a lot of bumps and bruises and time and time again we'd see Michael Carter get up and go back to the huddle and lead the team. That's how he'd always been.

“;Even before he came to UH that's what we heard about him: He's a tough guy and he's not afraid to play ball the way it's supposed to be played.”;

Carter finished his career in 1993 and still owns the UH record for rushing touchdowns with 39 and is the second-leading rusher in school history with 2,528 yards, trailing only Gary Allen.

Carter's comfort with contact was a product of his football background growing up in Southern California, and he didn't resign himself to the role of victim when running the ball.

“;I was a quarterback and a linebacker from my Pop Warner days all the way up until high school,”; he said. “;I kind of played with a linebacker's mentality. ... And a lot of my time was spent practicing with the running backs, so I actually learned how to deliver blows instead of taking them.”;

Carter signed with UH out of Long Beach Poly and backed up Garrett Gabriel his first year. He took over as a sophomore in '91 and rushed for 214 yards in his first start, a season-opening win at Wyoming.

He first suffered the rib injury in that game, yet he set a single-season school record with 221 rushing attempts. The last of those carries, his touchdown against Notre Dame, summed up Carter's competitive streak.

“;That kind of epitomized the team effort in that game and it epitomized the kind of person he was,”; then-UH head coach Bob Wagner said. “;He could have slid or something like that, but that wasn't his nature. He was going to try to get everything he could.”;

Still, Carter's job was far from secure going into 1992. Ivin Jasper won a tight competition for the starting assignment in the season opener at Oregon, while Carter began the season as a slotback.

Both Jasper and Carter suffered ankle injuries the next week and Rodney Glover piloted UH to a win at Air Force. A combined effort led to a rousing win over BYU and Carter's ankle allowed him to reclaim the starting spot the following week at Utah.

“;I just happened to be the guy that got totally healthy first and was able to go,”; Carter said. “;The longer the season went, the better we got as an offense.”;

A November win over Wyoming (coupled with San Diego State's loss to Fresno State earlier in the day) gave the Rainbows a share of the WAC title and a berth in the Holiday Bowl.

After wins over Tulsa and Pittsburgh, Carter capped the landmark season by running for 105 yards and throwing a clinching 53-yard touchdown pass to Branch in a 27-17 win over Illinois in the Holiday Bowl. Carter was named the Outstanding Offensive Player of the Game.

“;I came from winning traditions. I won a lot of football games, but I've never felt as close to a group of guys on the football field as I did with that team,”; Carter said. “;We had a lot of confidence, almost a little bit of arrogance, which you need sometimes to get you over the hump.”;

Carter, now a stevedore, enjoyed a stint as an assistant coach at Kapolei, where he coached two quarterbacks who went on to Division I football careers, Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada (Navy) and current Hawaii receiver Jon Medeiros.

For the moment, Carter is content to teach the game to his 4-year-old son, the aptly named Chase Michael Carter. He'd like to eventually return to coaching and, as he showed against Notre Dame, Carter has a knack for finding his way to a goal.

“;I don't think there's any way I wouldn't get back in it,”; he said.

                     
 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
'BOWS (AND WARRIORS) IN BOWLS
       
Year indicates season game followed
1989, ALOHA BOWL
       
» Michigan State 33, Hawaii 13
1992, HOLIDAY BOWL
       
» Hawaii 27, Illinois 17
1999, OAHU BOWL
       
» Hawaii 23, Oregon State 17
2002, HAWAII BOWL
       
» Tulane 36, Hawaii 28
2003, HAWAII BOWL
       
» Hawaii 54, Houston 48
2004, HAWAII BOWL
       
» Hawaii 59, UAB 40
2006, HAWAII BOWL
       
» Hawaii 41, Arizona State 24
2007, SUGAR BOWL
       
» Georgia 41, Hawaii 10
2008, HAWAII BOWL
       
» Notre Dame 49, Hawaii 21

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Jason Kaneshiro covers UH football for the Star-Bulletin. Tomorrow we unveil No. 14. See starbulletin.com for more on “;The Centurions”;