WASHINGTON — As the Howard University homecoming crowd came alive, Norfolk State quarterback Juwan Carter didn’t panic. The Spartans’ 25-point lead had dwindled to a single possession with plenty of time left on the clock for the charging Bison offense. On a crucial third down with 2 yards to go, Spartan coach Dawson Odums called a timeout to talk to his quarterback.
“He came to me and said, ‘I got you, coach, don’t worry about it,’ ” Odums said of the conversation with his fifth-year senior. “If you’ve seen me, I don’t really get frustrated on the sideline no matter whether we’re up or whether we’re down. I believe that pressure is something that all champions are able to perform under. So, if you’ve been down that road before, like [Juwan] has, he’s able to perform under that.”
With all eyes on Carter as the ball is snapped, he drew two defenders before handing off to senior Cameryn Brent, who ran through an open hole in the middle of the field caused by the misplaced defense for a 57-yard touchdown to ice the game for the Spartans, 45-31. Carter completed 26 of 29 passes for 332 yards. He broke a school record with 21 consecutive completions, and his 89.7 completion percentage is second-best in school history.
“I knew the whole game the Howard sideline was yelling quarterback, quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. Just because they were so locked in on me. [Brent] hit the seam and got a touchdown. That was all she wrote,” Carter said of the third down. “They really [were] trying to stop me from running today. They tried to zone me, so basically a quarterback spy. I can’t run, so I just [sat] in the pocket and threw it.”
Game-planning for Carter has been a difficult task for opponents this season. His shifty, 6-foot, 175-pound frame gives him the ability to be a running threat, and his arm strength allows him to throw a deep ball with ease. Even when he doesn’t use his arm or legs to make a play, he still sets up his teammates for success. Carter possesses all the intangibles Odums, who is in his first season at Norfolk State, raves about.
“It’s just understanding that we go as he goes, offensively. I think when you got a trigger man that’s pretty good, you got a chance to have some success. Everybody knows about our guy. Everybody’s seen him play. He’s very talented, but it’s about his focus, drive and leadership. It’s about all those intangibles that separate him from others,” Odums said.
“As he continues to improve on that, is when this football team continues to improve,” Odums continued. “He’s a great young man. He’s got a competitiveness about him just like no other and he wants to win. Just doing it the right way all the time is something that he’s gotten better at and just understanding the game and taking what the defense gives him. But he ran the offense that he’s very familiar with, understanding inside out, and people got to pick their poison.”
As a quarterback who inherited the reins of the Spartan offense in the third game of his freshman year, being in a close contest wasn’t new for Carter. He’s been leading the offense for five years and will tell you he’s grown leaps and bounds from the freshman who struggled playing against experienced seniors. Despite some challenges playing at a new level, his teammates can attest that his leadership has always been the difference.
“Juwan has definitely been a leader since we first got here. That’s the job of the quarterback, being the leader of the team, but over the season he’s really matured to the man we all know,” said senior defensive lineman De’Shaan Dixon. “Juwan, he’s that guy here and he definitely knows what to do and how to bring the team together and finish the game off strong.
“It’s good we have a player-led team. You have your leaders on the team that lead us into moments just like this where we had to settle down and finish the game off. If it’s a player-led team, we’re going to be straight. We got our leaders on the team. Juwan is definitely one of those guys, and we got to come away with the W.”
His improved leadership simply started with an emphasis on communication. Carter has embraced knowing his teammates and taking the time and effort to learn how to be the most effective communicator with each player, understanding when someone responds better to a one-on-one conversation on the side. Since he graduates in December, he emphasizes passing down the knowledge he’s acquired to the underclassmen, reminding them to stay disciplined and humble.
A year ago, the coronavirus pandemic delayed his senior season. Carter is thrilled to be playing again and is putting everything he’s learned during the offseason on the field. He’s embraced a never-make-the-same-mistake-twice mentality. In the meantime, he has spent time building trust with his new coaches, Odums and offensive coordinator B.T. Sherman, and watching film on defensive formations.
“So, yeah, I definitely have come a long way from my freshman year when it comes to reading defenses, more reading coverages, more understanding what the D-line is doing, [and] just understanding what’s going on with the defense,” Carter said. “[Credit] goes to the coaching staff. The guys up top, Sherman, he sees something. He relates it to the quarterback coach down on the field with me. They taught me [and] let me know what’s [happening] on the field. I just execute what they want. If they say stay in the pocket, that’s what I do, stay in the pocket, don’t run it.”
His preparation ensured he was making the correct plays down the stretch against Howard and in a 47-44 overtime win against Hampton on Oct. 2. Carter has shaped his leadership style based on focus, humility and maturity off the field, which has translated on the field.
So far this season, Carter has racked up multiple awards, including Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Player of the Week three times and HBCU National Player of the Week. Although Norfolk State did not participate in the spring season, Carter was still voted as preseason MEAC Player of the Year. In 2019, Carter led the MEAC with 2,631 passing yards, 29 total touchdowns and a 60.6 completion percentage.
“I don’t like preseason awards because it’s preseason, you haven’t even played yet so you’re looking at what I did last year,” Carter said. “So, yeah, I don’t really look at accolades, really. But it was a big target on my back because when you go into a game preparing to play me, I’m preseason player of the year. I’m just out there trying to stay poised and just go through the game and just execute the plays as a call.”
The Richmond, Virginia, native said he’s just Juwan “Pootie” Carter. He was given that childhood nickname by his cousin due to constant flatulence. He takes pride in his even-keeled demeanor, a direct result of advice his father Lemuel gave him years ago: Don’t let your emotions control you.
“I don’t deal with emotion. If something bad is going on, you wouldn’t know. It’s like, if you deal with emotions, it’s like a sign of weakness,” Carter said. “[My dad] just told me don’t deal with emotions. This got me through a lot of things, though just because it’s bad right now, it’s not always as bad as it seems. It could be worse. So that’s another motto. It could be worse, so we don’t deal with emotions.”
The Spartans are currently 5-2 (1-0 in the MEAC) and riding a five-game winning streak. So far this season, Carter has passed for 1,620 yards, 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He also has rushed for 299 yards and another five touchdowns. In his collegiate career, he has amassed 8,123 yards through the air, 76 total touchdowns and 29 interceptions. He’s currently second on Norfolk State’s career passing list and is on pace to become No. 1.
“He’s gotten better as a person and that makes you a better leader. He’s as good as advertised, a great leader, even better father, and a good person,” Odums said. “We give him the keys to an offense and he does an outstanding job of running this car. So I’m proud of him. I hope somewhere down the road in his future he has an opportunity [to play in the NFL]. But you know what he came to Norfolk State to do and that’s to get a degree and then to put him in position to be successful in life.”
The Spartans’ remaining MEAC opponents all have records below .500, and if the Spartans can win out in conference play, the program’s first Cricket Celebration Bowl appearance would be guaranteed. While Carter’s season-end goal is to make the Celebration Bowl, he and his teammates are trying not to look too far ahead.
“Of course,” Carter said with a smile of his desire to play in the Cricket Celebration Bowl. “We’re just focused on going 1-0 each week. It’s a good win, every win is a good win. We got 24 hours to celebrate it. After that, who’s next?”