HOUMA, La. (AP) — Whenever he puts on his No. 74 Terrebonne High School football jersey, Johnny Carter III said he feels a source of inspiration flowing through his body.

Johnny III, a senior offensive and defensive lineman for the Tigers, said the jersey is more than a roster number.

He wears it to honor the legacy of his father — former Terrebonne High, Grambling State University and NFL football player Johnny Carter Jr. — who died from a heart attack at age 36 on July 24, 2001.

Johnny III, who goes by the nickname "Trez", was just a seven-month-old baby when his father died.

Although he never got to meet or talk to his famous father, Johnny III said has continued the legacy by wearing Terrebonne's No. 74, a number worn previously by his father Johnny Jr. from 1980-83 and his older brother Johnathan "Polo" Carter from 2000-03.

"It motivates me a lot just knowing what they did with that number and the greatness that passed through that number," Johnny III said. "I like to think to myself that I'm the best player on the field at all times, but after watching my brother and watching my dad, I'm just thankful to even be in the same conversation. It's great that I have the ability to do it as well."

Johnny Jr., who is often recognized as one of the top athletes to ever come from Terrebonne Parish, starred as a defensive lineman at Grambling then enjoyed a pro career with the NFL's Los Angeles Raiders and Denver Broncos and the Montreal Machine of the World League of American Football (which later was known as NFL Europe).

Johnny III said he has spent most of his life hearing about his father's accomplishments as a professional football player and in the community as a mentor for area youth.

"I can't go anywhere without hearing his name," Johnny III said. "From south Louisiana to Ruston and Grambling, everybody tells me about him. There are people I never heard of come up to me to say great things about him. It's unreal the things he has done for people. Just everyone who made contact with him just seems to love him. It's just greatness."

Polo was a sophomore football player at Terrebonne when his father died in 2001. He originally wore No. 70 jersey before switching to his father's No. 74 before the start of his junior year.

Polo said his father would've been proud to sit in the stands at Terrebonne's Thomas B. Smith Memorial Stadium in Houma and watch his two sons play football for the Tigers.

"Sometimes I envision in my mind me and my dad sitting in the stands watching him (Johnny III) play," Polo said. "I envision what we would be taking about, whether it is about football or life. It's awesome just to see that 74 on the field again. I know he's looking down upon us and his spirit is in the stadium every time Trez puts on that 74 jersey, and he's going to continue to be with us after he takes it off."

Suzanne Carter, who is the mother of Johnny III and Polo and widow of Johnny Jr., said seeing her sons wear No. 74 over the years has brought back old memories of her husband playing for Terrebonne.

"It's a special time for our family," Suzanne said. "They cherish every time they have a chance to wear their dad's number. It was a big deal for Polo, and Trez has worn the number well."

Suzanne said her husband loved all four of their children. She said he would've loved watching his youngest son Trez play as a senior at Terrebonne.

"I wish so much that Johnny could be here watching his son grow into the great young man he has grown into," Suzanne said. "He's a great football player and a great person all around."

Johnny Jr. passed away on July 24, 2001, just moments after working out with his son, Polo, and several other Terrebonne football players on a hot summer day at Tom B. Smith Stadium. He often led a workout regimens with the athletes every year.

Polo said he learned a lot about football and life from his father. They often had disagreements, but he knew his father wanted only the best for him. He would later pass those same lessons on to his younger brother.

On the day he died, Johnny Jr. collapsed from a sudden heart attack at the home of his mother — Elaine Brown Carter — on Exchange Alley, right across the St. Charles Street from Terrebonne High.

An ambulance was called and it arrived shortly after. By the time they got to nearby Terrebonne General Medical Center, he had died.

Polo said it was a tough loss for the family and Terrebonne Parish, but he knows his father is in a better place.

"It was my Dad's time. God makes no mistakes. Everything happens for a reason," Polo said. "I'm so thankful for the good times and the bad times that we had. If people thought he was an All-American blue chip football player, he was an MVP Father."

Suzanne said her husband's death was "totally unexpected" because he was physically fit and never complained about anything. Since his death, she said Polo and other members of the family and community have helped her raise Johnny III.

"I'm lucky to have a close-knit village to help me raise such a fine young man," Suzanne said. "He's already exceeded what probably most people ever thought he couldn't do and it's all about the grace of God and the love of family. It helps that he has a wonderful angel watching over him in his father."

Johnny III said he got to hear his father's voice for the first time last year while watching old family moments on video tape.

"Hearing his voice for the first time was like a dream come true to me," Johnny III said with tears in his eyes. "My first time hearing him was on my birthday. They recorded the day of me being born. It just means so much to be able to hear that."

The last time Terrebonne's football team made it to the state championship game was in 1983, when Johnny Jr. helped lead the Tigers to a state runner-up finish in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. Terrebonne lost to Neville High, 40-14, in the Class 4A state finals that year.

As a current senior, Johnny III said it is his goal to help the Tigers get back there this season and finish what his father's Terrebonne team couldn't do — which is win a state championship.

"That was something I always thought about when I was younger," Johnny III said. "I knew I was going to come to Terrebonne and was going to end up playing football as a senior here. I always wanted to tell everybody that if my father and brother couldn't do it, then I could get a chance."

Terrebonne head football coach Gary Hill said Johnny III (6-foot, 260-pounds) is an important leader for the Tigers.

Despite battling a broken bone in his hand, Hill said Johnny III has continued to work hard to lead his team this season. He is receiving interest from several college teams.

"Anytime you have a senior that plays on the offensive and defensive line with his ability is great for the team," Hill said. "All football games involve winning in the trenches. His leadership and what he brings to us in the weight room and on the field is such an asset to have."

Polo said it was tough seeing his younger brother grow up without his father. He said it makes him proud to see Johnny III not only continue his father's legacy but create one of his own.

"Johnny has done a great job with the adversity he has been faced with. He did the best he could do, and he's reaping the benefits this season in his senior year," Polo said. "He is on the verge of doing special things this year with his team. I'm thankful that I'm here for him. He's paving his own way and learning things as he goes."

Suzanne said she believes this year's Tigers have a chance to go far. They return most of their players from last year's 7-4 team, and she said the current Tigers remind her of the 1983 Terrebonne team that made it to the Superdome.

"I feel that same energy that we had back then," Suzanne said. "It puts a little smile on my face and I look up to the heavens and say 'I see you Johnny.' It's his baby boy's senior year playing football and he's going to help him go out with a bang. I think they are going to go all the way. I'm really happy for Trez and his teammates. I'm looking forward to seeing all the experiences with him this year so that he can leave out with a smile on his face."

And Johnny III said he wants the entire community to come and watch the Tigers' play.

"We hope everybody comes out and support us this year because we are really going to take it far and we will need that extra push to make it to the Dome," Johnny III said. "It's going to help out a lot."

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Information from: The Courier, http://www.houmatoday.com