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Rams' Carter has chemistry working for him

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By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 26, 2000


ATLANTA -- He was born blind. As a Tallahassee ninth-grader, Kevin Carter was a geeky 5-foot-8 saxophone player in Lincoln High's band.

A gifted student, especially in science and math, he achieved a 3.75 grade-point average in high school. An egghead, not a jock blockhead. He met his wife in a college chemistry class.

It's not your stereotypical Super Bowl portfolio. But Tuesday, there stood Kevin Louis Carter, seeing everything with 20/20 clarity, having physically exploded to 280 pounds on a 6-5 frame, a St. Louis Rams defensive end who led the NFL with 17 sacks.

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Blow your horn, old sax guy.

"I'm living a dream, cherishing every heartbeat of this Super Bowl experience," said Carter, alert eyes scanning the Georgia Dome, where Sunday his Rams play the Tennessee Titans. "I've been wanting to do this since I was 5."

Kevin was a premature baby. "Mom being anemic, doctors forced early labor," he said. "There were chemical imbalances. It caused me to have no eyesight. It was a scary situation that would clear up in four or five months, when my vision became normal."

Louis Carter, Kevin's father, has spent 30 years delivering packages for a living. Kevin's mother, Virginia, is an accountant. They would've never guessed, at least in his boyish years, a formula so magic: UPS+CPA=NFL.

An older brother, Bernard, had far more football propensities in his youth. He went to camp with the Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars but made minimal impact. But now, Kevin is a Pro Bowler and a Super Bowler.

"Within me, even as a physically slow-to-develop child, there was a Super Bowl dream," said the 26-year-old former University of Florida athlete. "But you don't make Super Bowls with a saxophone. Finally, going into my sophomore year at Lincoln, the Lord began to give me the big body I needed.

At 15, he grew a startling 7 inches in seven months. Kevin was suddenly an uncoordinated 6-3, 200-pound sophomore who caught the eye of football coaches.

"I mostly slept that whole summer of gigantic growth," he said. "I was spouting so rapidly that my shoulders, elbows, knees and ankles constantly ached." As a high school senior, he was up to 6-4 and 220. College scouts were impressed.

"I'm delighted my choice was the Florida Gators, not only because of football accomplishments, like winning the 1994 SEC championship, beating Alabama right here in the Georgia Dome," Carter said, "but even more importantly because UF is where I met my wife.

"Shima is from Jamaica. I was assigned to help her in a chemistry course. Our professor thought I knew the material better. But she wound up with an A while I made a B. Shima graduated with a 3.9 GPA, and she's as beautiful, sweet and smart a mate as anybody could ever ask."

When Kevin was a tot, not long after he gained sight, there was heavy pampering by careful parents. "They wanted me to get strong, to have high goals," he said, rubbing a postage stamp-size goatee. "In search of a positive theme, they decorated my room with Superman figures."

It became a Kevin fetish.

Carter's home in suburban St. Louis is loaded with Superman drawings, gimmicks and memorabilia. "He's my alter ego," said the hulking football player, his right biceps tattooed with a familiar "S."

Kevin will refer to his wife as "Lois Lane." "Why not?" he posed. "She's intelligent, pretty and able to take on all challenges. Every night when I arrive home after football practice, it's like Clark Kent being greeted by Lois Lane."

Welcome to his daily planet.

Carter left UF before earning a degree. Unlike so many in pro sports, it's not a forgotten quest. "I attend Fontbonne College in St. Louis," he said. "Going to graduate soon. I still may become a pharmacist."

That brings up another intriguing Super Bowl XXXIV profile. Both defensive ends for the Rams, the ex-Gator and former Nebraska player Grant Wistrom, were pharmacy majors.

A radio reporter suggested that Kevin reached new NFL altitudes, getting 29 sacks the past two seasons, "because, I hear, you became nastier on the field."

Carter's neon smile abated. A devout Christian, he was offended by the premise. "I consider than an insult," he said. "It's idiotic. It angers me from a character perspective.

"When searching for reasons for improvement I've made, I attribute it to hard work, desire, more experience, plus now having a wonderful team around me. It's a lot easier to play great defense when you're sharing time with a great offense."

A sentiment the Tampa Bay Bucs should understand.

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