UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Some of the Penn State players are reflective after games, like wide receiver Allen Robinson, who has taken off his helmet and prayed after singing the alma mater. Some remain as intense and loud as they were minutes before, like cornerback Stephon Morris who almost always continues yelling as he walks to the locker rooms.
Tight end Kyle Carter is always laid-back when the games end. He plops onto a chair or bench, all smiles and honesty after a victory or a loss. He looks refreshed, too, like he could play the entire game again and might like to.
Basically, Carter evokes the image of control, and why not? As a redshirt freshman, he has developed into Penn State's second-leading receiver, a tight end who was named Big Ten freshman of the week after Saturday's Iowa game and is the only freshman nominated for the John Mackey Award, the nation's top tight end honor.
"I'm loving it," Carter said. "Ever since coach [Bill] O'Brien was named the head coach, I knew that the tight end was going to be an integral part of this offense."
- Game: Penn State (5-2, 3-0 Big Ten) vs. No. 9 Ohio State (8-0, 4-0), 5:30 p.m., University Park, Pa..
- TV: ESPN.
Carter did not play last year. He roomed with then-senior Andrew Szczerba for training camp. Szczerba -- who, like Carter, is from Delaware -- helped him learn the routes and the basics of playing tight end at Penn State. It was a mentorship Carter needed. He was not used to the tight end position, having only played one year as a tight end in high school.
Then in January, O'Brien was hired by Penn State. Carter would have to learn everything about being a tight end again. Of course, he looked forward to it. Any tight end would.
Just after O'Brien's hiring, Carter started watching the New England Patriots more closely. O'Brien was the team's offensive coordinator and they were in the playoffs with tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski excelling.
This fall, Carter said Penn State would be running the same plays and the same routes as those guys. That's when O'Brien added a caveat. He said he was not asking his new tight ends to be Hernandez and Gronkowski, that he was asking them to block and learn their assignments.
O'Brien clearly understated their importance, evidenced particularly by Carter. In the first game of the season, he caught six passes for 74 yards against Ohio University.
"He made some incredible crazy catches in the spring and you think if he does that in the game, it will be nuts," defensive tackle Jordan Hill said. "He's definitely been doing that."
His production (29 receptions for 364 yards) has been more than a nice surprise for Penn State. It has been necessary. From the beginning of practice, Robinson has been hailed as the team's best receiver, a prediction proven game after game this season by Robinson's 47 catches for 563 yards. To keep him open, someone had to develop into enough of a threat to prevent constant double teams on Robinson. Carter has done just that.
"In order for him to be able to get his numbers up, I have to be able to do something," Carter said.
O'Brien traces Carter's progression to his intelligence.
"Some guys are very bright students but not as smart on the field, or vice versa, and this guy has both," O'Brien said. "He's a very smart guy in the classroom, he's a very smart guy on the football field and he's only going to get better."
Against Iowa, Carter played his best yet, tying a career high with six receptions and surpassing a previous career high with 85 receiving yards. O'Brien said Carter's 34-yard first quarter reception, caught with his hands above his defender's helmet, helped catalyze his team's hot start.
Carter called his catch "crazy," but he wasn't surprised. He said he always knew he could do something like that, and he has said the same about the season he's having.
"I definitely had big goals for this year," Carter said.
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter @mdent05. First Published October 24, 2012 4:00 AM