Penn State tight end Kyle Carter (87) is tackled by Illinois defensive back Earnest Thomas (9) as Carter catches a pass in the end zone in overtime for the winning touchdown in an NCAA college football game against Illinois.
By Mark Dent / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Tight end Kyle Carter either wouldn't or couldn't leave. It was Saturday after his touchdown reception in overtime lifted Penn State to victory against Illinois, and he lingered in the media room, at first surrounded by people asking him questions, then staying once the crowd dispersed, like he needed to get some things off his chest.
Carter always has been one of the most honest and outgoing players on Penn State's roster. Even after losses, he has shared insights and perspective; few of his teammates do so. The same goes for his self-evaluations. He admits that this season hasn't played out the way he envisioned.
"I expected to have a really good season this year," Carter said, "and it's just been tough for me."
The series of unfortunate events that have befallen Carter since a year ago are well-known.
Against Nebraska, a defensive back fell on his right wrist, dislocating and tearing ligaments and Carter had surgery a few days later, the injury setting him back for months. In the winter, he progressed from catching tennis balls to using his left hand only to working back into shape by spring practice, albeit not enough to participate in contact drills.
Thinking in hindsight about Carter's rehabilitation, coach Bill O'Brien said the tight end never got into ideal shape in the spring or summer. When the first game rolled around, he still wasn't up to the standards he set a year ago when he gained 453 receiving yards.
Then, more bad luck followed: A Syracuse player fell on Carter's arm in the opener, injuring his elbow.
Asked for specifics about the injury Saturday, Carter bristled, only saying it limited his blocking for a couple of games. The memory is one he wants to forget.
His touchdown catch Saturday was his only catch of the game. This season, Carter has 14 receptions for 186 yards.
For the sake of perspective, Carter had surpassed that output after the first four games in 2012.
With him not at full strength for part of this year and Matt Lehman out since the first game, Penn State's tight ends have produced significantly less than 2012, combining for 39 receptions, putting them on pace for 58 by the end of this season.
Last year, the Nittany Lions' tight ends combined for 83 catches.
Such a drop-off was not expected. At the beginning of the year, tight ends like Lehman and Carter had said the tight ends' roles this year were going to be more complex now that O'Brien had been around for a full season.
"We've tried all year to get them involved, whether it's poor throws or maybe not great route running or some drops, whatever," O'Brien said Saturday. "The tight ends will always be a big part of what we do at Penn State."
OBrien also said after the win against Illinois that he thinks there's still plenty of time left in this season.
Though the first eight games haven't been particularly good for Carter, he realizes that if he converts his opportunities and the team wins, good things will happen.
"Everybody that catches the ball gets a little frustrated," he said.
"But, as long as you're winning games and your friends are doing their thing, I'm definitely happy."
Mark Dent: email@example.com, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.
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