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Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009

Auburn's Carter emerges as force at defensive end

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Proves in season’s second half he can succeed Coleman

By ANDY BITTER

abitter@ledger-enquirer.com

AUBURN, Ala. — Of the many tattoos on Antoine Carter’s body, the two he seems to have a tinge of regret about sit right under his eyes.

The Auburn defensive lineman has the words “Hot” and “Boy” — his nickname — tattooed vertically at the outer corner of each eye, almost like teardrops. Cool at first, they’ve lost their luster.

Carter said he hopes to have them removed this spring in what would be a costly procedure.

“It’s just professional reasons,” he said. “I’m going into the business world. People make their thoughts about you when they first look at you, so I don’t want anybody getting off to a wrong start about me.”

Carter is getting serious in other realms too, especially on the football field, where he emerged in the second half of the season as a worthy heir to senior Antonio Coleman’s role as Auburn’s most disruptive pass rusher.

After easing back into the rotation following offseason knee surgery, the 6-foot-4, 263-pound Carter started the final six games at left end, the first extended starting role in his career. The junior responded by making 27 tackles, 4 1/2 tackles for a loss and 1 1/2 sacks.

“I think this year was my best year,” Carter said. “I really enjoyed it. You can look at the film and tell it’s a big difference from my previous years. I think it was a really good breakout year for me.”

Auburn hopes it’s a sign that Carter will be the player to fill the void left by the departing Coleman, an All-SEC selection who led the league in sacks and tackles for a loss this season.

The other defensive ends that figure to be in the mix are Michael Goggans, who battled injuries this season and lost his starting job, Dee Ford, an undersized true freshman thrust into a backup role because of depth problems, and Nosa Eguae, a true freshman with high potential who redshirted because of a foot injury.

Carter, who just turned 21, might be the best candidate to take Coleman’s spot.

“He’s learned a lot,” Coleman said. “I think he will have no problem filling those shoes. I’m going to try to get him to wear my number next year. I think he’s a great player, and he’ll be a great player next year. He’s going to be a senior, and most of the guys are going to lean on him. So, like I tell him every time we talk, ‘It’s your team now.’ ”

Carter already has taken steps in that direction. He worked hard to shed his label as a pass-rushing specialist. He is intent on being physical and being as concerned about stopping the running back as he is getting to the quarterback.

Although he had fewer sacks and tackles for a loss than he did last season, Carter had 11 more tackles than his previous career high, registering four or more stops in four of Auburn’s final six games of the regular season.

That’s not to say his pass-rushing skills have diminished.

“He’s tough,” said right tackle Andrew McCain, who matches up with Carter in practice every day. “He’s fast. Especially since he’s been getting healthy, he’s fast off the edge, and he’s got real quick feet, and he’ll sneak you with a little bit of power every now and then, not too much.

“But he’s the kind of guy that’s tough for an offensive tackle to block, especially out in space, because he’s got the speed upfield, but he’s also got the quickness back inside on pass rush.”

Despite his plans to remove the “Hot Boy” tattoo from his face, Carter has plenty of other artwork on his body.

He is particularly fond of a tattoo on his right hand that sums up his situation. There, surrounded by flames, its message is clear: “Sky’s The Limit.”

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