<
>

UCLA's Carter ready for his close-up

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

UCLA linebacker Reggie Carter likes being in the middle of the action. Not only because it allows him to make more plays. It also gives him an opportunity to provide his own special brand of play-by-play narration.

Yes, Carter likes to chat with opponents, and he appreciates guys who enjoy going back and forth with the ripostes unique to a football game.

"I'm always talking -- offensive line, running backs, whoever is out there, I'm trying to have a conversation," he said. "After the play, during the play, before the play. I'm pretty active with my mouth. The referees have to tell us to be quiet at times. It's all fun and games. We talk trash during the game and give each other a hug after the game."

Sometimes the opponent doesn't cooperate. Carter said former Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart was a bit too quiet for his tastes. But he's big fans of Oregon State's Rodgers brothers, Jacquizz and James.

"We're were going at it a lot last year," Carter said. "We were talking back and forth. It was fun. Both of them. They're not big but they've got big hearts."

Carter's in-game libretto, however, didn't help get the word out on one of the West Coast's most underrated players.

Despite nagging injuries, Carter has started 32 games over the past three seasons at both inside and outside linebacker. He was a freshman All-American in 2006 and second-team All-Pac-10 last season, but he's busted noggins and ranted and raved mostly in anonymity.

Two reasons for that: 1. UCLA has mostly wallowed in mediocrity during his career; 2. That other LA program has sorta cornered the market on All-American linebackers.

Yet with Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Kaluka Maiava shipping out from USC to the NFL, and California's Zack Follett joining them, it's wide open this spring as to who is the Pac-10's best linebacker.

And just because Carter likes to trash talk on the field doesn't mean he's boastful off it.

"I know I'm not the greatest player in the world but I respect the game, I study it and I think I play it fairly well," he said.

When asked about his favorite player, Ray Lewis, he twice emphasized he's not comparing himself to the future pro football Hall of Famer.

"He's my guy -- I love his intensity," Carter said. "He has a great passion and love for the game. He shows it when he plays. He's very emotional. I'm not comparing myself to him -- I'm not as good as him -- but when I play football I get pretty emotional. Sometimes before a game I'm almost crying because I love the game and enjoy doing it so much."

Carter hit the weight room hard after dropping to as low as 215 pounds after the 2008 season. He's at 235 pounds now and ready to take the lead on what may be one of the Pac-10's better defenses.

That leadership started this spring when Carter and other seniors explained that "Over the Wall," the Bruins tradition of bailing out of one spring practice a year, has been suspended.

Some griped when told of the new order.

"They said it was tradition," Carter said. "And I said it was a tradition that started when UCLA was winning. We were 4-8 last year. We don't deserve to do anything that they did in the past because in the past they were winning. We need to take advantage of all 15 [practices] to get better."

And if some folks rebel and jump the wall at Spaulding Field?

"We'll squash that real fast," Carter said. "If anybody tries to leave, we'll go in the locker room and get them and they'll finish practice with us."

It's just a hunch, but here's a guess Carter can be fairly convincing.

Carter and the rest of the seven returning starters on defense know their unit is in transition. Respected coordinator DeWayne Walker was hired as New Mexico State's head coach in the offseason, and Chuck Bullough was promoted from linebackers coach to fill the void.

Not too much will change in terms of scheme -- some reads and calls might be simplified -- but it was a significant loss for other reasons.

"It hurt me personally because [Walker] and I had a close relationship, almost father-son. We talked all the time, even if it wasn't about football," Carter said. "As a football player, I'm hurt, but as a family member, I'm also kind of happy. He's living his dream. I wish him the best."

It's particularly poignant when Carter speaks of a "father-son" relationship. His father, Reginald Carter, Sr., was shot and killed by his sister's boyfriend. Reggie Carter was only 2-years-old.

"I think about it a little bit from time to time, wondering what it would be like to have a father, for him to see me graduate from high school and play football in college and all those different things," Carter said. "But I have a lot of uncles who got me involved in sports. I also think, if my father was here, would I have been involved in sports and would have my uncles been so involved in my life that they got me to playing football in college?

Carter has another source of inspiration. Before games, he listens to Tupac Shakur's song, "Dear Momma." It reminds him of his mother, Selena Adway.

"My mother is pretty much my motivation before every game," he said. "She gets joy from watching me play and I like to do that for her."

If things fall into place this year, Carter will continue to chatter and makes plays and give his mother joy well into the future. Only he'll be suiting up on Sundays.