LINCOLN — Cethan Carter's not one to whimper away at the threat of a little contact, but the true freshman tight end wouldn't mind some extra space to work with the next time a pass comes his way.
Carter's caught five passes so far this season, and he's has paid the price on each one of them.
So it's no wonder that the first word blurted out of his mouth when asked about the transition to the college game relates to the beating his body has endured through six weeks.
“Physicality,” Carter said. “Big difference.”
That's coming from a 6-foot-4, 240-pounder from Metairie, La., who initially jumped on Nebraska's recruiting radar because he had the frame of a difference-maker. His blocking ability in high school increased the Huskers' interest even more.
But that was then.
“I was one of the biggest and strongest, so I just moved people,” Carter said. “In college, you've got to take the right technique. Hand placement's got to be right on point. It's a lot more physical.”
He has the aches and pains to prove it. Just examine his highlights in the passing game.
It took three Southern Miss defenders to drag Carter to the turf for a 12-yard gain on Sept. 7, the first reception of his career.
Two weeks later, he caught a 26-yard pass up the seam late in the second quarter, but a South Dakota State safety blasted him before he could turn upfield. Carter then got his legs taken out just as the ball arrived on an 11-yard completion over the middle in the third quarter.
At Purdue two weeks ago, Carter got leveled after hauling in a 12-yard pass on third down. It was good for the first, but Carter had to get checked out by the medical staff because of the hit he absorbed.
Carter also caught a 3-yard pass along the Husker sideline, but a Purdue player knocked him out of bounds before he could make a move, sending him rolling toward the bench and into the knees of teammate Jason Ankrah.
“I've taken a few hits,” Carter said, laughing. By no means is he complaining.
“If they're going to throw it to me, I might as well catch it,” he said. “I just try to hang on to it. As soon as I get it in my hands, tuck it as quick as I can before contact.”
It was his pass-catching ability that initially made an impression on teammates and coaches in preseason camp — at least, that's Carter's humble take.
Surely, he says, it couldn't have been his mental grasp of schematic concepts and defensive strategies.
“They were telling me how to line up and what route to run, and I was just making plays,” Carter said.
But the NU coaching staff did have high expectations for Carter, even during his first year in Lincoln.
Carter was primarily an H-back, fullback and blocking tight end at Archbishop Rummel High School until his senior season. But Nebraska had been targeting him before then.
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck was looking for a quarterback when he saw Carter walk out of Rummel's locker room.
“I was like, 'Who's that dude?' ” Beck said.
Soon Beck was pondering the possibilities of creating mismatches with Carter in the passing game. Playing Carter as a traditional tight end, or flexing him outside like a receiver, or maybe even using him like a fullback.
“It helps having a guy like that because you can get in a lot of formations and not have to change personnel, which allows you to play even faster,” Beck said last month. “That was a lot of it, seeing the future and seeing what he could bring to the table.”
Carter hasn't disappointed so far.
He's spent much of the season with the No. 1 offense, taking advantage of a spot left vacant by injured senior tight end Jake Long. Carter's in line for considerable playing time again at Minnesota. Long isn't likely to play Saturday.
Carter's looking forward to it. He's getting more comfortable each time out.
Carter admits he still asks a lot of questions. On the sideline during games. Even between plays, sometimes.
He'll reassure himself by double-checking with an offensive tackle about the blocking scheme or clarifying a route concept with a quarterback.
“It's starting to come a lot easier,” Carter said.
But he knows there is plenty more for him to learn. He's reminded of that every day in practice.
Redshirt freshman Sam Cotton, redshirt freshman Trey Foster and sophomore David Sutton all have been competing for playing time in an offense that regularly utilizes the tight end position.
Carter's received more in-game snaps than any of the youngsters in Long's absence, but he's of the belief that nothing's guaranteed.
“The competition, it keeps me motivated,” Carter said. “I feel like, yeah, I'm playing a lot. But at any given moment, somebody can step up and take my (spot).”
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