Pat Higgins | Asst. Sports Editor
Most kids who grow up playing football dream of having the chance to play in the NFL. For most kids, a dream is exactly what it remains when they realize their gene pool does not match up with what NFL scouts are looking for.
But for Gianni Carter, the NFL is a dream that could soon be realized this spring.
Carter, who led the Dukes’ receiving corps in catches, yards and touchdowns last season and was named preseason all-NEC, has been training since Christmas break for an opportunity to showcase his skills and find a spot on an NFL roster when minicamps open in May. He signed a contract with Jordan Byrd of Byrd Sports Management in January and lived out of a hotel five of seven days a week in Cleveland where he trained alongside other NFL hopefuls in a six-week program designed to ready prospects for pro days and draft combines.
Following a month and a half of rigorous training at the facility where current NFL stars including Donte Whitner, Ted Ginn Jr., Mario Manningham, Julian Edelman and others prepared as collegiates, Carter participated in his Pro Day at Duquesne on March 3 and traveled to Seattle a week later for a regional combine in his native northwest. Last week, the Oakland Raiders sent a scout to Duquesne for a one-on-one workout with the 6-foot-2 wideout. Carter said the Raiders and the Indianapolis Colts have showed the most interest.
Now, it’s a matter of waiting for a call in the late rounds of the NFL Draft on May 8 to 10 or an invite to minicamp shortly thereafter.
Carter ran a 4.79 40-yard dash at Duquesne’s Pro Day on March 3. According to data from Scouts Inc., the average 40-time for a wide receiver between 2008 and 2012 is a 4.55. Carter will be the first to admit that speed and overall explosiveness are not necessarily his strengths, but in a league predicated on complex offensive schemes and attention to detail, those are only two minor parts of the equation.
Asked of his strengths, the Eugene, Ore. native said his work ethic, “ability to go up and catch the ball” and overall football IQ are a few aspects of his game in which he takes particular pride.
“Even though I might not have blazing speed, I’m very knowledgeable about the game, how to read coverage and how to catch the ball,” Carter said. “A lot of receivers go in with [just] speed, and they fall out and get cut because they’re not able to first, catch the ball, and second, pick up a playbook and understand a defense and where the holes and gaps are in the zone and man.”
Agent Jordan Byrd, who has negotiated 10 NFL contracts and helped secure 11 minicamp invites in three years, believes Carter has the opportunity to impress a lot of coaches around the league. According to Byrd, a player’s order in the draft pool (whether he’s a first-rounder or an unsigned free agent) matters in his rookie season, but “coaches in the NFL play the guys who play well” when the doors are closed and players report to camp.
“His biggest attribute going in his favor is his size,” Byrd said. “He can make acrobatic catches. He tends to get open [and] he’s a high character guy.”
Byrd said the Raiders liked Carter’s character, his hands and his smoothness in technique.
Following the 2010 season, Carter transferred from Montana State, where the stadium holds over 20,000 people, to Duquesne. Because of NCAA rules, he had to sit out the 2011 season. During that time, Carter said he “had a year off to sit and really work and pick up on guys like Connor Dixon and Chuck Hocker,” former DU receivers who pursued opportunities to take his talents to the professional level in recent years.
Chuck Hocker (2004 to 2008) was the first player in program history to compete in the 2008 Hula Bowl, a postseason invitational game similar to the Senior Bowl last played in 2008 in Honolulu.
Joining Cleveland Browns cornerback and former DU player Leigh Bodden, he was the second player in DU history to be named an Associated Press and American Football Coaches Conference All-American as a junior in 2006. He reportedly garnered interest from the New York Giants according to an April 2008 report from The Star-Ledger’s (New Jersey) Mike Garafolo.
More recently, Connor Dixon (2008 to 2012) was invited to Steelers minicamp in May 2012 following his senior season. In 40 games at Duquesne, Dixon scored 48 touchdowns. He initially starred as a quarterback, throwing 25 touchdowns in 14 games. As a junior, he moved to wide receiver and finished with 23 touchdowns in 26 games as a receiver.
Carter said he “really got to watch them and see their work ethic, and just work like they did to be as successful as they were. It’s humbling [at Duquesne] because it’s not as big football as you would expect. You have to work for everything.”
In his two seasons at Duquesne, Carter made a consistent impact outside the hash marks. He grabbed 108 passes for 1,602 yards (14.8 yards per catch) and caught 13 touchdown passes. He was the Dukes’ most reliable target last year in a season where redshirt freshman quarterback set a freshman record with 2,569 passing yards.
The journey to the professional ranks is just beginning for the soon-to-be graduate. With two classes remaining, he’ll graduate in a few weeks with a degree in business management and a concentration in route running.
Whether he’s trading his pads in for a neck tie will be settled in the future remains to be seen. But with a degree from the Palumbo Donahue School of Business and the potential to make an NFL roster, Carter is well-prepared for what comes once he dons a cap and gown on Saturday, May 10.