BYU junior running back Jamaal Williams dished out the best new nickname after practice one day last week when asked about the spring performance of junior running back Nate Carter.
"I call him 'the Leprechaun,'" Williams said with a grin. "Every time he makes a big run, it’s like he’s running for his pot of gold. He’s ‘the Leprechaun’ to me."
When asked about the nickname, Carter — who has made some flashy runs when running the the No. 2 offense during the first couple of weeks — laughed and said it was the first time he'd heard that particular label.
The nickname Carter has heard is "the Penguin," which Williams said is just because he’s so short.
"The ‘Penguin’ comes from the coaches," Carter said. "I think Coach Holliday came up with that one."
While the nicknames may have drawn some laughs, Carter’s performance during spring camp certainly hasn’t been comedic. In a number of different practices, Carter has hit the hole and broken free for long runs.
“Spring ball has been good so far,” Carter said. “Now that I’ve been given a chance, I think I’ve been doing all right. You can always improve but I have had my number called a few times and you just try your best.”
Running backs coach Mark Atuaia said he likes what Carter has been doing, both in running and in other areas of the game.
“Nate’s been making plays, just like he did last year,” Atuaia said. “It’s unfortunate that he’s stuck behind a whole bunch of good guys but he’s going to make our team by helping us on special teams and then when he gets his chance as a running back, he’s going to do his deal. I’m very pleased with him and the way he is coming along.”
Carter is one of many non-headliners who are trying to make the most of their opportunities during spring.
“Really what I’m trying to do is that I’m trying to earn the trust enough to where if I do get a shot, they trust me enough to carry the rock,” the junior said. “That’s really my goal right now is to earn that from the coaches.”
But the reality is that there BYU has a number of other athletes already established in the running back rotation and Carter understands that there are only so many opportunities available.
“The thing about playing running back right now is that it’s pretty locked down,” he said. “Jamaal (Williams) does a great job. I look up to him a lot and his athletic ability and the way he plays. All the running backs bring different things to the table. Coach has just challenged me to keep doing what I’m doing and work really hard.”
Carter said that he’s trying to make sure he is taking care of business in all facets of the game.
“I have made a point in spring to work on my blocking ability,” he said. “We do one-on-ones and I’ve done OK in that. I’ve had more chances to run the ball, which I love. If I’m asked to block, I do my best to block and if I’m asked to run, I do my best to run. It’s kind of where I’m at right now.”
That’s exactly the attitude Atuaia wants from athletes in Carter’s position.
“Nate Carter is the epitome of what you want in a walk-on,” the running back coach said. “He’s here every day, ready to do his work, he’s assignment sound and he’s got the heart to do what we ask him to do.”
Carter explained that sometimes it’s tough to be in the background but that he’s learned you have to make the most of it. He referred to his experience last year, where he thought he made some strides in spring and fall, only to end up on the scout team.
“At first it’s hard to be on the scout team, but then you realize that you can really help the team out a lot,” he said. “You learn really cool offenses. I try to watch the running backs and then you try to go out and mimic them. You learn a lot about running styles but for me personally I also learned confidence. I went up against the No. 1 defense every day at practice. If I break a big run or something, then it’s like hey, maybe I can kind of do this.”
The confidence from those days on the scout and the opportunity for the “Penguin” (or the “Leprechaun”) to show his explosiveness has at least gotten Carter to the point where he’s being looked as a possible contributor.
BYU head football coach Bronco Mendenhall cautioned against reading too much into the big runs in spring but did say he likes what Carter has shown in 2014.
“He’s earning consideration,” Mendenhall said. “A lot of times, especially at this point in spring, there are things happening on both sides that are assignment mistakes or combinations of players that make things look better or worse than they are. Some of the things happening for any player has some of that to do with it, but Nate is consistent, steady and working really hard. He’s had a nice spring so far.”
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @JaredrLloyd. Instagram: @JaredrLloyd.