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The top 100 FSU football players: No. 82— running back and return man Dexter Carter

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A multi-faceted weapon who could take it the distance from anywhere on the field.

Dexter Carter

Many of the players featured so far in this countdown have stats or hardware that speak for themselves. Aaron Carter is FSU’s all-time leading tackler. Graham Gano won the Lou Groza award and set a school record for 50+ yard field goals made in a season. Larry Key left school as the career rushing leader and is still fifth in that category more than four decades later. Cam Erving was a key cog on an undefeated and untied national championship team and a first-team All-American.

However, sometimes stats don’t tell the whole story. In some cases, to truly substantiate an all-time ranking one has to look beyond the record book and accolades.

Dexter Carter is one of those cases.

Carter’s 17 rushing touchdowns and 1,788 career rushing yards rank him 15th and 17th respectively. Definitely good, but not elite. His 732 kick return yards is good for 14th best in school history—again that’s impressive, but not legendary. Carter’s versatility out of the backfield allowed him to rack up 3,260 all-purpose yards, placing him 12th all time at FSU. That’s one spot behind Lorenzo Booker and three spots behind Leon Washington (though it is worth noting that bowl game stats didn’t count in Carter’s day).

Splitting time with Sammie Smith for most of his career, Carter wasn’t even the best back on the team for his first three years. Then his senior year he battled injuries, managing just an honorable mention all-american nod from The Sporting News.

And yet, ask any long-time FSU fan and they’ll tell you that Carter’s lightning in a bottle explosiveness and penchant for making big plays when FSU needed them most made his career more impactful than the raw stats suggest. In fact, three plays against the most dominant program of the 1980s showcase just how versatile the speedster from Baxley, Georgia was.

Carter’s most memorable play came in the opening minute of one of the greatest wins in FSU history, 1989 Miami. In fact, this play was ranked number 7 on last year’s countdown of the top 100 greatest plays in school history:

But that wasn’t the only time Carter electrified the crowd against the Hurricanes. In 1986, Carter was on the receiving end of a cross-field lateral on a kick-off return for a touchdown, as not even the ‘Canes could catch Carter in a foot race. Easy to see why Carter is FSU’s all-time leader in kick-off return average, among players with at least 20 kick returns.

In 1987, Carter made an incredible leaping reception over two Hurricane receivers with less than a minute to play, giving FSU a chance to tie or win the game.

When it’s all said and done, Carter’s impact was so much more than his very good, but not great stats suggest at first blush. He was part of the group that started a dynasty. He helped bring flash and dash to a program that needed to go toe to toe with the brash Hurricanes to the south. He set the mold for shifty, yet hard nosed running backs at Florida State that could take it to the house on any touch. And from the three plays shown above, to the long catch and run in the waning minutes against Nebraska in the 1988 Fiesta Bowl that set up a game winner, to a dozen other similar plays, Carter always seemed to play best when the lights were brightest.

After his stellar college career, Carter was selected in the first round of the 1990 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. Taking over for an injured Roger Craig, Carter led the 49ers in rushing his rookie season, while also returning kicks. While he never became a featured tailback, his kick and punt returning talents proved elite. In 1994 he helped San Francisco win Super Bowl XXIX, leading the team in both categories. Then, in 1996, Carter was selected as a member of the San Francisco 49ers 50th anniversary modern era all-time team. To this day he remains second in franchise history in kick-off return yards, and fourth in franchise history in punt return yards.

Of course, all of the above serves merely as preamble for me to be able to link to this video of Carter slamming a flag on Bernard Clark’s head: