There are a million reasons why DeAndre Carter shouldn’t be in a Chargers uniform right now.
Carter arrived at Washington High School in Fremont as a 115-pound freshman, but football practice wore on him. His coach sent him home, where a 14-year-old Carter started vomiting. His father took him to the hospital, where the staff measured his blood sugar at 740. He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and shrunk to 72 pounds.
Yet, he rebounded, eventually being named third-team all-state in California in 2011.
A search for Carter’s recruiting profile out of Fremont, CA, yields only results for a 2024 offensive tackle recruit of the same name. He played four seasons at FCS Sacramento State, a program that hasn’t generated a draft pick since 1997. He went undrafted, further slimming his chances of sticking in the NFL. At only 5’8”, he’s the shortest player on the Chargers’ active roster, five inches shorter than the next wide receiver.
Anytime a player like Carter surfaces, you’re tempted to ask about their “why.” What kept them going all this time? Kept them working even as they took a full-time job at a middle school to make ends meet? Kept their head up after they were cut the first, second, or ninth time?
For Carter, that answer is easy: his brother, Kaylan.
When DeAndre was in college, Kaylan collapsed during weight training with his high school football team. Doctors found that Kaylan had an enlarged heart. Unfortunately, he never left the hospital, passing away at 17.
“I made him a promise that I would make it in the NFL for both of us. It was both of our dreams. I always took it upon myself that I was going to do everything that he wanted to do — that we wanted to do — and that he never got the opportunity to. Since he passed away, that’s been my drive and motivation, to get it every day — and when it wasn’t looking good in the NFL to keep pushing and keep working,” Carter told the Washington Post last year.
Make it he did, but not before quite the winding road. Carter started in Baltimore as a rookie free agent in 2015 but was among the first cuts after failing to win the returner job. Two and a half months on the Raiders practice squad. New England’s practice squad after that, where he was called “a more athletic version of [Julian] Edelman” during the preseason.
Then, Martin Luther King Middle School in Hayward, CA, where Carter worked as a substitute teacher while working to earn his next shot.
That shot came with the 49ers, where he spent another year on the practice squad. Then the Eagles, where a story on Carter’s background called him the team’s “second-best receiver through three preseason games.” Offensive coordinator Mike Groh said he was “glad that [Carter was] here.” He made the 53-man roster for the first time at 25 but was waived after two games. First, Houston claimed him, then Chicago claimed him.
Then, Washington, where he finally found a groove at 28 years old. Special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor called him “a fun player to be around.” Ron Rivera said, “we saw that during camp, and we should’ve known better” when Carter started making an impact as a receiver. Terry McLaurin lamented that he didn’t “think enough people gave [Carter] credit for how good he can be at receiver.” Carter scored his first career touchdown with Washington in a game where Carter wore cleats adorned with images of Scooby-Doo, Kaylan’s favorite cartoon.
— DeAndre Carter (@DCarter_2) October 6, 2021
But Washington didn’t re-sign Carter after the 2021 season. Instead, he returned to California, where he’s on a one-year deal with the Chargers this season. As a result, everyone assumed he was signed purely to be the new returner.
That is, until training camp.
Carter exploded this offseason, scoring touchdowns left and right in practice and earning the trust of all three QBs on the roster. Justin Herbert called him “friendly to the QBs.” Brandon Staley said it’s “not an accident, guys like throwing to [him].” The preseason convinced many that Carter would have a role on offense in some capacity, but most thought it’d be as a gadget player. End-arounds, reverses, jet sweeps, that sort of thing.
We probably should’ve known better.
When the dust settled on Week 1, Keenan Allen was the Chargers’ leading receiver. No surprise, although Allen did leave the game early with a hamstring injury. Second place wasn’t $60 million man Mike Williams, nor was it the warp-driven hype train of second-year receiver Joshua Palmer.
It was Carter.
After the game, Staley gave Carter one of five game balls, the only offensive player to receive one. Staley reminded the team that the 29-year-old has been “one of us from the get-go” before tossing him the ceremonious ball.
Allen may miss multiple weeks with the hamstring issue, telling the media on Sunday that there’s only a “small chance” he plays on Thursday against the Chiefs. That’ll open more opportunities for Carter, of course. But he’s earned them already, injury notwithstanding.
Maybe the Chargers’ comments on Carter are the latest entry in a bittersweet journal. But, perhaps, at the end of the season, the comments look more in line with what every other team has said. “We love you and your work ethic, but we need to go in a different direction.” Carter has heard it before. But after everything Carter has been through – rebuilding his body as a 72-pound 14-year-old, losing his brother, eight years in the NFL, nine teams, nine cuts, and a pit stop at a middle school – it looks like he’s found a home in Los Angeles.