After the team breaks the huddle following another scorching practice under the sun, redshirt junior defensive lineman Ron’Dell Carter takes off his pads and No. 5 jersey, making his way to the locker room. A quick stop with local media stands in his way, but after some light conversation, he drops his pads off at his locker and gets in his post-practice routine.
He proceeds to hit the ice tubs, followed by getting the proper treatment he needs to work out the daily kinks in his body, a norm for most athletes. But then things get particular. Due to low potassium levels, he knocks back a shot of pickle juice and follows that up with a pickle spear or two and a protein shake.
Such commitment to his health has been the focus on his development this offseason. He’s quicker off the line, more swift with his pass-rush techniques and less fatigued at the end of a tiring day. His play has earned high praise from the head chief.
“He’s one of our best defensive players,” head coach Mike Houston said. “He’s had a great preseason camp … and he’s a guy that kind of sets the tone for us on that side of the ball.”
Carter is approaching his second season as a Duke, transferring from the Big Ten after two seasons at Rutgers. He’s the younger brother of redshirt senior linebacker Robert Carter Jr., but his 6-foot-3-inch, 268-pound frame makes him anything but little.
Filling out the depth of the defensive line in 2017, he sat behind some of the biggest names in recent JMU history. Andrew Ankrah, Simeyon Robinson and Cornell Urquhart combined for 49 sacks and over 430 tackles in their JMU careers, and Carter has taken something from each of them to heart now that they’re no longer exploding through the trenches with him.
“When we were winning last year, it wasn’t because we were talented,” Carter said. “Obviously we had talent, but we were winning because we were a brotherhood. I think it’s imperative that people really understand that. Like we were winning because we care for one another.”
Carter’s approach this offseason has been one of the brightest surprises for the JMU coaching staff. He’s a relentless worker, handles himself well on and off the field and has the can-do ability to turn into a star up front. His transition into a vocal leader on the team has also garnered praise throughout the organization.
“Ron’Dell is one of our bell cows,” defensive coordinator Bob Trott said. “We’re counting on his leadership, counting on him being one of those guys that leads this team.”
The coaching staff is certainly behind Carter as the next star on the defensive line. While it won’t be hard for JMU Nation to get behind Carter’s success and make him the next quarterback killer of JMU opponents, the Baltimore native is looking to insert his most important lesson learned since sporting the purple and gold.
“I think [what] I’m really trying to do is keep that bond the same, keep our culture the same,” Carter said. “We’ve got a bunch of new guys in and it was a large senior class that left, so now we’ve got to basically instill the culture into the younger guys and to the new guys that transferred in.”
The Dukes have prided themselves on a selfless identity, and 2018 projects to be the same. What’s most interesting about this year’s attitude is the number of FBS transfers on the roster. Houston has spoken about how some of these players choose to come in as big egos that hold themselves higher than the team, but he’s been pleasantly surprised by the family feel from his unit and how they’ve all fit in. While Carter isn’t technically new to this 2018 team, he carries that same camaraderie on a daily basis.
“I try not to think about personal expectations,” Carter said. “I try not to, because the biggest thing is to win. I try not to be an individual, and I think that’s critical, especially if you’re an older guy and people look at you as a leader.”
With a healthier lifestyle, the coaches’ approval and an increased role on the line, Carter is set for a monstrous campaign in 2018. While the mainstream media and college football experts haven’t realized they’ve slept on his talent just yet, that time will come. When it does, however, Carter will have the same-sized ego and flatline demeanor — focused solely on bringing another national championship back to Harrisonburg.
Contact Blake Pace at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more football coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.