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Thursday August 11th

Michael Carter's impact on UNC football will go far beyond on field performance

Senior running back Michael Carter (8) drives the ball upfield against Western Carolina in Kenan Memorial Stadium on Dec. 5, 2020. UNC beat WCU 49-9.
Buy Photos Senior running back Michael Carter (8) drives the ball upfield against Western Carolina in Kenan Memorial Stadium on Dec. 5, 2020. UNC beat WCU 49-9.

Three touchdowns and a respectable 73 yards on just eight carries, all in one half of play. So ends senior running back Michael Carter's time in Chapel Hill. 

Senior day might not have been very exciting for one of the North Carolina football team's most important players over the past four years — a 49-9 blowout with UNC up 39 points at the half doesn't cause much drama — but the moment is bittersweet. 

The Tar Heels likely have two games left in their season, with Miami next week and an undetermined bowl game to be named later — but Saturday was the last time Carter will step in Kenan Stadium dressed in Carolina Blue. 

To the outside world (read: the media), Carter has never been a man of many words. It's not out of timidity. Rather, he has always said what he felt he needed to, and left it at that. 

The senior running back's impact on the Tar Heel program will likely go far beyond his on the field accomplishments, which are numerous. Many times this year, the coaching staff has pointed Carter out as a leader in the locker room. 

"He has been the number one guy I've gone to to try and figure out, was it safe with COVID? Were we going to play games? Did the players want to play? Did they feel safe?" UNC head coach Mack Brown said after the win. "I would always call or text Michael first and say, 'Give me the pulse. What do you think the guys are thinking?'"

This past summer, Carter was one of the key figures in the locker room pushing to have conversations about racial injustice in America, following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police. He has spoken time and time again about how his goal during his time as a Tar Heel has been to make his team feel like as much of a family as possible. 

In truth, Carter will stand as one of the key figures in the re-emergence of North Carolina football. Through tragedy of circumstance, he never got to experience the true success his talent was worthy of. There were flashes for UNC, including the top-five ranking this year, but two years spent on the abysmal last years of Larry Fedora's tenure led straight into the work of rebuilding a program. 


Wake Forest's first year defensive back Nick Andersen (45) attempts to tackle UNC's senior running back Michael Carter (8) during a game in Kenan Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. UNC beat Wake Forest 59-53.


Carter is one of several outgoing players for UNC — including linebackers Chazz Surratt and Tomon Fox, and receiver Dazz Newsome — whose talent was overshadowed by poor coaching and play by the rest of the team in their early careers. But at least all of them have now experienced what it's like to actually play winning football. 

"Being those guys, being those leaders on the team has been special to me," Surratt said. "I know, it's been special for them to just — thankful to take the field with those group of guys throughout my time here."

Carter will never experience the accolades or the success like some of his arguable contemporaries, such as Travis Etienne of Clemson, or Najee Harris of Alabama. It's even possible that in the minds of those who view value as simply a matter of stat sheet numbers, he will eventually be overshadowed in raw output by fellow UNC backfield member Javonte Williams. 

But Carter's legacy will be difficult for anyone outside the facilities of the football team to understand, even as he protests his indifference to what that legacy might be told as. 

"That's up to y'all," Carter told the media on Tuesday, when asked about what his legacy will be. "I don't know. I mean I think I did some good stuff, but at the end of the day, I'll leave that up to y'all to have that conversation." 

He's got two more games to fully cement his place in the annuls of North Carolina football. Until then, Michael Carter gets to celebrate his senior day in the manner that befits him. 

"I got my parents with me, I got my girlfriend with me," he said. "So we're gonna eat and just relax."

@bg_keyes

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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