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Carter had already been laid off the last year he coached at McClymonds, but he kept it a secret and coached for free. "He kept going, and not even for money — he just enjoyed doing it," Abrams said. That year, McClymonds won the league championship, the Silver Bowl, and the Transbay Bowl, which was the first time an Oakland champion team played the San Francisco champion team. They won the Transbay game 72-14. "I knew that was gonna be my last game, and I cried, 'cause people didn't really know what I was holding inside," said Carter.
Shortly after that game, he received a call from Berkeley High School. The school's head coach was retiring, and they promised him an on-campus coaching job. Even though it was painful for Carter to leave his alma mater, he moved to Berkeley High, starting over once again.
Since Carter left, McClymonds' football team has gone from first place to last, winning only two games this past year. "And the saddest part, not even on record," Carter said, is that "not one kid signed a scholarship this year."
Up at Berkeley High last spring, Carter could be heard throughout the entire school yelling at his players. "Pick your damn feet up," he yelled at Lucas King, a senior linebacker, as King, a tall, slim guy with a freshly shaved buzz cut, did cancan kicks over hurdles. Even though it was late afternoon in the off-season, Berkeley High's football field was in full swing. Down on the AstroTurf, surrounded by bleachers, graffiti paintings, and images of the school's yellow-jacket mascot, there wasn't a lot of empty space. Several different sports teams were training: lacrosse, track, and cheerleading. Dozens of other students sat in the bleachers cracking jokes, flirting, and half-watching the athletes practice.
Carter was in one corner of the field with a handful of his players. Wearing a red-and-black Georgia Bulldogs tracksuit and a Yellow Jackets baseball hat, he closely scrutinized his players as they shuffled, hop'n'skipped, and twisted through the rungs of a rope ladder lying on the ground. To a bystander, these routines could just as easily have been dance practice as football training.
"Off-season is the toughest part," Carter said. "But I do my best work in the off-season." That's not only when he gets his kids in shape, but gets them really focusing on their grades. Two years ago, King was pulling a 1.5 GPA. This year, he was one of the top recruiting prospects in the Bay Area and received a scholarship to UC Berkeley starting this fall.
When Carter first came to Berkeley High, he saw King's athletic potential but didn't go easy on him. "It was a rough start, because I was a quarterback and he told me I couldn't throw," King said. Carter made King try out again for quarterback, then said he'd have to play defense instead. Even though King was dismayed, it turned out he was a lot better at defense.
But King's grades were lagging. "He sat right here with his mom, teary-eyed, and she said, 'What can we do?'" Carter recalled, "And I said, 'We gotta buckle down.'" Carter got King to go to extra study sessions in the library as well as night school, summer school, and junior college. Pretty soon King's grade point average was about 3.0. "He's taught us we can go to college for free, doing something we love," King said. "Most kids think their dream is to be in the NFL, but our dream is to go to college and get a degree."
During the two years Carter has been head coach at Berkeley High, eight players have signed to four-year colleges, the most in school history. The football team has also twice won the league championships, gone to the playoffs, and hosted a home game, all of which have not happened at Berkeley High for years. "The program has turned around in two years," Abrams said. "He runs this coaching thing like a corporation, and he works hard at the craft."
Wide receiver Morris Norrise was another player recruited from Berkeley High this year. He's slender and articulate, and has a big inviting smile. As a freshman, he had a 1.8 GPA; last year he earned a 4.0 and signed a full scholarship to Sacramento State. "With Coach Carter, you have to be a student athlete," he said. "You have to be as good off the field as on the field."
Reamer, Carter's friend from his dancing career, sees a direct correlation between Carter's King Ho days and now: "Whether you're dancing or coaching, repetition is everything," he said. Carter fixated on his dance practice and training until he had every step down to the millisecond, and as a coach, he puts in the same care and study. As King said, "He's dealt with stuff other coaches wouldn't. He has perseverance and he stuck with us."
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