“He was a natural. Like I’ve told a lot of people, if he put his mind to playing defensive back he’d be one of the top-five defensive backs in the league if not the best in the league.”
– Riders head coach Chris Jones
he birth story of the league’s most menacing two-way threat has two slightly different versions, depending on who you ask.
If you go to the player, Duron Carter says his role as defensive back was born out of equal parts necessity — there were three defensive backs injured at one point last season, leaving the Saskatchewan Roughriders spread thin at the position — and persistence.
“I was just joking with (coach Chris Jones) one day at practice,” Carter, the Riders’ 1000-yard receiver said, fresh off the field from the Riders’ prep for the Toronto Argonauts, who visit Regina on Friday.
“I said, ‘Coach, you know I could go out there and do it.’ He said, ‘All right man, fine!’”
Chris Jones, the Riders’ head coach, GM and VP, football operations, tells a slightly different version.
“He started bugging the sh-t of out me about playing defence,” Jones told CFL.ca in January.
“He said he could do it, I asked if he’d ever done it and he said no. The first six or seven times he asked I said, ‘Get over there and be quiet,’ you know? Then finally I got tired of hearing it.
“I said, ‘Get over there and play defence.’ He was a natural. Like I’ve told a lot of people, if he put his mind to playing defensive back he’d be one of the top-five defensive backs in the league if not the best in the league.”
A two-time CFL All-Star and last year’s team MOP, Carter is as complex as he is talented. He played on four different teams in college and was as he put it “kicked off the team in Montreal,” which led to his arrival in Riderville last year. He’ll always speak his mind, in-person or on Twitter to his 21,000-plus followers, leaving ruffled feathers and a flood of @s in his wake.
Duron Carter has turned into a two-way player since joining the Saskatchewan Roughriders (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)
The 27-year-old is outspoken, out-of-this-world talented and he’s trying to re-blaze a trail that’s grown almost unrecognizable, having started to grow over through the last 50 years or so. Carter had touchdowns as a receiver, a defensive back and returned a missed field goal 113 yards for a two-point convert last year. He’s perhaps the least likely candidate for it, but Carter is a throwback, capable of making an impact in all three phases of the game.
Jones marvels at Carter’s versatility.
“A six-foot-five guy that can catch a punt, run back kicks and stuff like he does and run after the catch, those aren’t common,” he said. “He’s such a dynamic player.”
Carter may be the poster child of a millenial player. By his own admission, he’s a tough read for a coach.
“I’m kind of an unorthodox professional. It sort of seems like I’m lackadaisical and not paying attention and everything,” he admitted. “A lot of coaches don’t accept that, that gets on your nerves. With coach Jones, he’s strictly a results-oriented guy.”
So imagine Carter, marching to the beat of his own drum, lining up with old school names like Garney Henley. Hal Patterson. Jackie Parker. Johnny Bright. All four were MOP winners that won the award with their two-way play considered.
“Just recently a lot of people have tagged me and stuff and I’ve looked it up, some of the older players that came into the league and did it both ways,” Carter said.
He’s thought about the league and how much the game itself has changed since those players were on the field between the 1950s and early 1970s. He knows that the specialization of today’s game has made two-way players non-essential, that what he’ll be doing this season is the cherry on the cake.
“I’m just fortunate enough to have the trust from coach Jones to put me in that position. Because a lot of coaches even if they could, wouldn’t put you in that position,” he said.
In Jones, he has what might be as close to a perfect fit for a head coach as he might ever find.
“If he asks you a question about the D and I wasn’t in the meeting and I know, then he won’t ask me another question for the rest of the week,” Carter said. “He has trust in the guys. We have one rule in Saskatchewan and that’s that you have to get in the ice tubs after practice. That’s our only rule. He treats us like grown men.”
With Chris Jones at the helm, Carter feels he can be himself with the Roughiders (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)
There’s always a hold-your-breath factor with Carter. You’re either hoping he doesn’t say or do the wrong thing at the wrong time, or nervously waiting to see if he can walk all of the talk that he rolls out. Somehow, more often than not, he does.
He knows he’s a big personality. This might be the first time in his career that he’s found a place that let’s him let it all out.
“I mean, they kicked me off the team in Montreal one year for that,” he said. “I haven’t changed one bit, I’ve always been myself.
“I think people just get caught up in how they want you to act, whether they want me to be an offensive leader and say nothing like S.J. Green, or they want me to be somebody else. I tell people around here all the time when I’m long gone there’s going to be a book written about me and how I lived.”
The new-school player taking an old-school approach to the game is adding chapters to that story that very few players in the CFL could. If he produces at an All-Star level in two phases of the game, it will give him status that no one else in the league would hold.
“I think the simple fact that I’m doing it puts me in a different category,” he said. “I welcome other people to try. Step out of the boundary.
“It’s more about the coaching and having trust in your players. A lot of times coaches, they like to micromanage and they think they’re out there winning the game. In reality, sometimes you have to let the players play and that’s what coach Jones does.”
IN THEIR FOOTSTEPS: A look at some of the CFL’s greatest two-way players
If Duron Carter puts in significant time at receiver and defensive back this season, he’ll follow in the multi-talented footsteps of some of the game’s greats. Per CFL stats guru Steve Daniel, here are three players that played receiver and DB in their respective days.
GARNEY HENLEY HAMILTON 1960-1975
Interceptions: 60 for 916 yards with five TD returns. Ranks #6 all-time with the 60 INTs.
Fumble returns: 13 for 106 yards with three TD returns.
243 receptions for 4,647 yards with 42 TDs and (incredibly) 13 games of 100+ yards.
Henley ranks #3 all-time for defensive TD returns with eight and is one of only two players in CFL history with at least 40 offensive TDs and five defensive TDs.
Hall of Fame: 1979
Played 216 CFL games
HAL PATTERSON MONTREAL-HAMILTON 1954-67
Interceptions: 27 for 326 yards. Ranks in the Top-90 in all-time interceptions despite easily being the #1 offensive player in that era of CFL history.
460 receptions for 9,473 yards with 64 TDs and 34 games of 100+ yards. Holds the CFL record for highest average yards per game in one season (147.2 in 1956). Holds the single-game record of 338 yards.
Had three kickoff return TDs in his career, plus two fumble return TDs as well.
Was the leading kickoff return guy of his day.
Hall of Fame: 1971
Played 145 CFL games
BOBBY SIMPSON OTTAWA 1950-62
Interceptions: 20 for 224 yards but data was not available until 1954, so he likely had about 40 for his full career.
274 receptions for 6,034 yards with 30 TDs and 15 games of 100+ yards from 1954 to 1962. His full career totals would of course be immense but we lack data for 1950-53