Matt Carter played just one season of high school football with the Mt. Boucherie Bears.
A year later, in his first game of junior football with the Okanagan Sun in 2004, he made one catch for eight yards before a broken pelvis ended his season.
Not the kind of football resumé you would typically expect to lead to a Canadian Football League career.
One of the exceptions to the rule, Carter is now thriving in the pro game as a starting receiver for the Hamilton Tiger Cats.
In his second full season in the CFL, the 25-year-old from West Kelowna has made 20 catches for 209 yards in 12 games for the ‘Cats. He also sees full-time duty on special teams.
As Hamilton’s fifth, wide-outside receiver and the furthest player from the quarterback, Carter sees less of the football than the club’s other pass-catchers.
However, it doesn’t mean he can’t play an equally important role in the success of the offense.
“I don’t see the ball as much, but I’m still getting my touches,” said Carter. “When they do come my way, I’ve got to be ready and make the most of my chances. Because I don’t see a ton of balls, a lot of times downfield I’m making blocks, so I’m trying to become a better blocker. I try to do the best job I can, whatever my responsibilities are.”
Ti-Cats offensive coordinator Khari Jones sees Carter as extremely coachable and reliable, and expects the 6-foot-1 200-pound receiver to just get better with experience.
“Matt’s been doing a great job for us, I trust him, and that’s a big thing for an offensive coordinator to have in his players,” said Jones. “He’s in the right place at the right time and makes the plays when he has to. He’s very fast, he runs his routes well, he’s just solid all the way around for us. We can move him around, he can fill a lot of different spots. All he needs is experience and he’s getting more of that everyday.”
Carter’s development into a bona fide pro prospect didn’t really begin until 2005 when he joined the Acadia University Axemen program in Wolfville, N.S.
In just his second game with the Axemen, he worked his way into a starting position, one he held on to for the next four years until he graduated with a degree in kinesiology in 2008.
So impressed were the B.C. Lions by Carter’s football potential, they drafted him fifth overall in the 2009 CFL draft.
However, Carter’s stint with the Lions was short-lived when he left the club’s training camp to be closer to his family. His parents, Catherine and Allan Carter, had moved from West Kelowna to Oakville, Ont., where his mom was battling a rare form of cancer.
“I felt bad about leaving the Lions, but I couldn’t stay in B.C. at the time,” Carter said. “So technically I was a free agent, and that’s when Hamilton called me and offered me a spot on their practise roster. That was the start of it for me.”
Now, in his third CFL season, Carter fully appreciates where a once unlikely career in football has led him—from a special teams player for eight games in 2009, to a backup receiver in 2010, to a full-time job as a Ti-Cats starter in 2011.
“I can’t complain at all. I’m 25 years-old and still playing football. I go out there and get paid to play a kid’s game.”
As an added bonus, Carter is playing the game he loves in a city where football is alive and well, and the Ti-Cats (6-6) are as serious a Grey Cup contender as any team in the league.
“It’s an exciting time to be in Hamilton,” Carter said. “We’ve shown glimpses of greatness and we’ve also shown glimpses of mediocrity. We have a lot of talented guys, it’s just a matter of showing up every week. For us, we’re playing for each other. We love being competitive and being in the hunt. As long as we’re playing our best football at the end, that’s what counts. It’s exciting.”
Still, Carter is taking none of his life in the CFL for granted and understands the need to improve on a daily basis—particularly in the competitive world of pro sports.
“It’s a competitive business and there are lots of guys out there looking for work,” he said. “It’s tough to stay on top, you have to get better every day and finds reasons for them not to take you off the roster. It’s a process, it’s about having fun, and putting in your best effort at the same time. I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts.”
Carter and the Ti-Cats return to action Saturday when they visit the Toronto Argonauts.