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Grambling State’s Martez Carter goes from humble beginnings to ‘Mr. Excitement’

The running back fought and won the battle to become one of the most exciting players in the SWAC

Grambling State University running back Martez Carter remembers the exact moment that has since become his favorite Bayou Classic memory.

It was last season. With 6:56 left in the fourth quarter and a 45-23 score favoring the Grambling State Tigers over the Southern University Jaguars, Carter readied himself for the punt return.

Carter took off as soon as the high-arching punt bounced into his hands. Now a blurry figure running at full speed, Carter found a hole to his left and approached it. The running back quickly adjusted as Southern’s defense closed in, and the crowd roared as the first tackle was broken. It would give Grambling better field position, assuming Carter ever went down.

Two of Southern’s defensive players approached Carter from both sides, but in Three Stooges fashion, Carter’s speed sent them crashing into one another. With only two other players left to take him down, Carter’s confidence grew as he ran in an 88-yard return to extend Grambling’s lead by another six points.

“Mr. Excitement” — the nickname given to Carter by fans because of plays just like that one — had struck again.

“I broke a lot of tackles and skated to the end zone,” Carter said. “It’s probably one of my biggest moments in the Bayou Classic.”

Carter would complete the day with a season-high 118 yards rushing, 10 carries and two touchdowns. In that Bayou Classic, as it is every day, Carter’s biggest competition is himself.

Everything Carter does on the field has meaning. The running back often reflects that without head coach Broderick Fobbs, there may have been no Mr. Excitement at all.

Carter, 23, grew up in Monroe, a northeast Louisiana town nearly 40 miles away from Grambling. As one of 11 children (four children on his mother’s side and seven on his father’s), he struggled to find a way to shine. Examples of people who’d left Monroe and excelled were few and far between, and those who did go off to become successful hardly ever looked back. At the time, it was up to Carter to be the first in his immediate family to graduate from high school.

“I have a 27-year-old brother who is incarcerated,” Carter said. “My mother dropped out of school in 10th grade, my father dropped out in the 10th grade, and I have older brothers who dropped out in the 10th grade. … I didn’t want to be a bad product of my environment. I didn’t want to be a statistic, so I just really put in my mind that if I hadn’t gotten a chance to go to college, I was going to make the best of it.”

Carter attended Richwood High School in Monroe and played football until his senior year, where he ran into eligibility issues due to age restrictions. After being blocked, Carter transferred to a prep school in hopes that he’d be able to continue his football career during his senior year, but that “didn’t go too well,” Carter said. He went back to Richwood, where he played basketball, his first love. Carter’s style of play caught the eye of a couple of college coaches who had traveled to the high school on a recruitment trip, and he was offered a scholarship on the spot.

After graduating from Richwood, Carter headed to Marshall, Texas, to play basketball at the historically black Wiley College. He had made it, and things were finally looking up. But a year into his collegiate career, Carter’s coach transferred to Mississippi Valley State University, leaving his scholarship void. With mounting out-of-state fees and unable to afford tuition, Carter was forced to do the one thing he dreaded: return to Monroe.

But before Carter could fully work through that plan B, he was thrown a lifeline.

“Coach Fobbs gave me a call and asked me if I wanted to walk on, so I took the opportunity to come here,” Carter said. “And now you have yourself a Mr. Excitement.”

Before earning that moniker, Carter had work to do. He was brought to Grambling State’s team as a cornerback who wore the No. 40, but he took his spot on special teams very seriously. His sophomore year, after working hard and proving his skills to Fobbs, No. 40 became No. 4 — a running back who returned kicks with such explosiveness and versatility on the field that he turned heads and caused fans to wonder who the new kid was. He became known as one of the most exciting players to watch in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), and Mr. Excitement has lived up to his name since.

“I like making plays. I like being in the spotlight,” Carter said. “Coach said I have a problem with the spotlight, but if you’re going to put the spotlight on me, I’m going to give you a show. That’s how I’ve always been.”

But with exciting plays and a new nickname come great amounts of pressure.

“Everybody’s looking for a home run, so when I don’t have those home run games or the big-play games, they’re like, ‘Man, he ain’t the same Tez no more, or he ain’t the same Mr. Excitement no more,’ ” Carter said.

Compared with last year, Carter’s season has been a bit quieter, as he’s averaging 5.4 yards per carry, down a little more than 2 yards from his sophomore and junior seasons, but it doesn’t mean the spark from Mr. Excitement has been lost. Carter looks forward to showing off on the field this Bayou Classic and getting a win for his team.

“[Bayou Classic] is probably the most packed game we play, the most attended game,” Carter said. “We always have a lot of high stakes riding on that game. This year, it’ll be the deciding factor on who claims this side of our division, so it’s always exciting playing and putting on a show for the fans. [I’m looking forward to] just getting a W overall as a team. I can have no stats at all, just as long as we get that dub. I’d really be happy at the end of this game.”

Although Carter has been the topic of NFL draft chatter, especially after being invited to the seventh annual NFL Players Association Collegiate Bowl last month, Carter is keeping his eye on a bright future, even if football isn’t involved. Carter, the first to graduate from college in his family, has already earned his Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice and is working toward another degree in sports management.

“I can stay around coaching, or become a probation officer or a police officer,” Carter said. “I remind myself that if this game was taken from me, I’ll still have my degree and I don’t have to go back home. To be given an opportunity to do what I love every day is even more drive to stay on the right path.”

Carter credits Grambling State for affording him an opportunity he may not have otherwise had.

“It’s family-oriented,” he said. “I was coming here because I didn’t want to go back home. I wasn’t coming here looking for other relationships that I now have with the university. I love it at Grambling. They treat me well. They treat everybody well, but I’m well-known around here, so I know the ins and outs and the ropes. Just making my way through campus every day, it’s kind of exciting to see all the people that kind of look up to you. I couldn’t ask for more out of a university like Grambling State.”

Leaving a legacy as one of the most humble yet exciting players to ever wear the No. 4 jersey at Grambling State is a goal for Carter, but he also wants other young people to know that hard work and determination can help turn bleak situations into more fruitful outcomes.

“I came from nothing, but I’m a local town hero right now,” Carter said. “It’s exciting to walk around campus and people know who you are and kind of treat you like the guys at the bigger schools getting the bigger recognition. It’s heartwarming, actually, just to see how much the fans love you.

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.