UNIVERSITY PARK — What Kyle Carter called a “freak accident” was really a devastating turn of events with crushing results for the Penn State tight end.
In a matter of seconds, a Nebraska defender landed on Carter’s right arm in Lincoln last season and sent the Penn State player to the sideline for good.
In that brief sequence in one of the Cornhuskers’ end zones, Carter severely dislocated his wrist and tore ligaments. Suddenly, the man who had been on pace to shatter single-season receiving records for a Penn State tight end was now just another player in a cast with only his left hand at his disposal.
Lifting weights was out of the question. Catching passes? That would have to wait quite a while, too.
The resulting four months were hard for Carter to bear as doubts about his future consistently entered his mind. Would he be able to return for the next season? Would he ever even be the same player, the one that emerged as an All-Big Ten selection in his first season of action, again? Carter asked himself.
“When it first happened, I really couldn’t do anything with my right hand and I was just in like a depressed state, just watching them play and watching the games,” Carter said.
Carter had surgery three days after he suffered the injury and missed the final two games of the season. But Carter’s misery was just starting to fester. As it turned out, with a bulky cast encasing his right wrist, Carter ended up missing an additional 10 weeks of other games — those were contested on Xbox.
“I couldn’t play video games or anything,” Carter said. “When my friends played Call of Duty or NBA2K, I had to just watch the whole time. As soon as I got into a smaller cast I was excited to get back on the sticks.”
And Carter was amped to return to the gridiron, too.
Despite team doctors’ original prediction that Carter would miss the entirety of spring practice, the sophomore is currently ahead of schedule and will be ready to go by the time training camp opens this summer, he said.
For now, he’ll remain in a red jersey over the final five practices this month signifying his no-contact status.
“It’s not like he’s taken any days off from practice,” Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said. “He’s been non-contact because that’s what I want to do with him. But we think he’ll be back ready to go and a much improved player (this coming) year.”
During the team’s practice on Wednesday, Carter showed no ill effects of his wrist injuries despite wearing a heavy wrap around the area. He ran a sharp crossing pattern over the middle during 7-on-7 drills and firmly caught a pass from quarterback Steven Bench without a hitch.
“If I had to play a game now, I would be able to,” Carter said.
In the early stages of his recover, the progress Carter made was on his own or with small groups of his teammates.
During the 10 weeks he was in a cast, he couldn’t lift weights in the traditional fashion. Instead, strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald rigged up a strap for Carter to lasso around his right forearm. The contraption allowed Carter to work out his arm without putting any strain on his surgically repaired wrist.
Carter’s injury-induced depression was alleviated by his assistant coaches and teammates, many of whom would accompany him to physical therapy and rehab sessions on campus.
He was still able to run routes and work out but couldn’t start catching passes until about two months ago. Even then, Carter had to play it safe. He’d only catch with his left hand. With teammate Allen Robinson looking on, Carter honed his circus-catching skills with left-handed snags this winter.
“When we would throw, he would have to catch balls with his left hand as much as we did with both,” Robinson said.
Robinson simply nodded yes and grinned when asked if Carter excelled with just one hand.
Now he’s finally back to using two.
Carter’s chance to become Penn State’s single-season leader in most receiving categories by a tight end was hindered when he suffered an ankle injury against Ohio State. That ailment caused him to miss the next game versus Purdue. The freak injury against the Cornhuskers was the deathblow to his attempted assault on the record book, however.
Carter finished last season with 36 catches for 453 yards, five catches and 83 yards short of the single season records set by Andrew Quarless in 2009.
In just a few months, Carter can try to do what injuries prevented him from doing last season.
“I’ve had to stay in a positive mindset and of course my teammates, roommates and the coaches just helped me through the whole process and now it’s just nice to be back with everybody,” Carter said. “It was a little bit more serious than I thought. But for me I’ve come along well and I‘m going to definitely be able to be back by the beginning of the season.”
Follow Travis Johnson on Twitter @traviswjohnson_