ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Quinton Carter, even as a student at the University of Oklahoma, always had a message for the young football players in front of him each summer at his annual football camp in Las Vegas.
As he faced the campers each year, at some point his message was about adversity and what it takes to rise above the difficulties that may come their way, about what to do if the road ahead was rarely smooth. And then, over the last two years, the words have been delivered from far different circumstances than ever before, they have come from the heart as well as his surgically-repaired knee.
"I've still done the camp even when I wasn't playing," Carter said. "And I really had to show them I was kind of living what I've been saying about not quitting, about working for what you want, about not letting tough times get to you or keep you from what you want to do. I didn't know how everything was going to work out, but you have to keep going."
Carter has not played a down for the Denver Broncos since Sept. 23, 2012, the third game of what became a 13-3 season. A player who had given the Broncos high hopes with a 49-tackle season in 2011, a year that included an interception of future Hall of Famer Tom Brady in the Broncos' playoff loss to the New England Patriots, saw everything change with one false step that buckled his knee.
Carter was injured in an indoor practice at a nearby suburban recreation facility that the Broncos have used when the occasional storm rumbles down eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. That injury has become a two-year odyssey for Carter with multiple surgeries, including microfracture, to try and repair the damage.
"(I'm) just staying optimistic, keeping my mind on that big goal of returning and making a difference on the team through all the ups and downs," Carter said. "By far that's the most difficult point, but I'm here now just taking it a day at a time, getting better each day.”
This past March, at the league meetings in Orlando, Florida, Broncos coach John Fox hinted Carter was showing signs of being able to compete for time at safety by the time training camp and the regular season rolled around.
Carter, in the Broncos organized team activities and mandatory minicamp last week, has done some situational work with the starters as the team tries to sort out a safety position with two players -- Carter and Rahim Moore -- who were on injured reserve last season. The Broncos signed T.J. Ward in free agency and Ward will be an every-down player for the Broncos, at strong safety much of the time or as a weak-side linebacker when the Broncos go to some of their personnel groupings in the nickel.
But Carter can play his way into some down-and-distance work as defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio is always willing to play mix-and-match with everybody on the depth chart -- "our guys know if they're up and in uniform on game day, we'll find a place to play them."
"He's worked very, very hard," Fox said. "We've kind of seen what he's gone through and so far he really has shown he can contribute, a guy who played a lot of good football us as a rookie."
"I had thoughts of not playing again a lot, but I just stayed positive through the whole thing, had great support from the Broncos and kept working every day," Carter said. " ... I've been out for two years so it seems like an eternity since I've played. I'm ecstatic to be out here. I just sit out there and just take it all in. I'm really out here playing and getting a chance to play again. I'm truly blessed and thankful. I remember exactly the way I left off."
Carter's approach during his rehab has drawn raves from his teammates. Injured players, often relegated to early-morning work with the team's training staff, don't spend a lot of time around their teammates once the regular season begins.
But those who know Carter, including Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr., said Carter dealt with the ups and downs that come with working back from surgery with patience and focus.
"He just kept at it," said Harris Jr., who is currently working back from his own ACL surgery.
Carter said he recently spoke to Hall of Famer Rod Woodson. Woodson, who had microfracture surgery during his career, has been a coaching intern during some of the Broncos' offseason workouts.
"He came up to me and was just saying, ‘Don't get discouraged, you'll get back to exactly where you want to be'," Carter said. "He said he played 14 years after his surgery so that was really helpful.
"... I was always thinking, ‘Oh geez' every day," Carter added. "It's easy to be forgotten about in this business. It's a lot of a ‘what have you done for me lately' type of thing. It's more the times at home alone when I'm just sitting there and I just have a lot of time to think, (that's) when it's hardest for me. It's a long time ago; it is what it is. I'm here now. I'm ready to make an impact this year."