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Notre Dame Football

Antonio Carter II Adjusting to Notre Dame Defense, Growing Confidence Daily

August 8, 2023

Antonio Carter II didn’t quite know what to expect when he entered the Transfer Portal in April, but he quickly found out as around 20 schools offered him a scholarship within days.

Notre Dame won the battle over LSU and others as Carter was looking for fit athletically, but also academically as he looks to chase his dreams on and off the field. 

The Florida native is enrolled in an MNA program at Notre Dame’s as he’s chasing a master’s degree, but Carter’s decision was led by the opportunity to play for Marcus Freeman regardless of position. 

“I was open to playing safety, corner, nickel, any spot,” stated Carter. “I was looking for the best fit for me to get on the field and for me to get to the next level. All of those schools I thought could do that for me. But what separates one school from the rest? I felt like Notre Dame separated itself based on after football. That’s why I decided, you know what, this is the place.”

Carter starred at Rhode Island as he tallied 105 career tackles from his cornerback spot. It would have been easily to continue to play corner, but most schools, including Notre Dame, saw a fit as a safety. 

And yes, Carter knew it would be an adjustment stepping into a higher level of competition, learning a new position and mastering an NFL-style defensive playbook. Carter has had to lock and while he’s still figuring out the smaller details of Al Golden’s defense, it’s also coming together the more reps he gets. 

“Getting into a new playbook and then on top of that a different position, because I was at corner, at first it was a little not disappointing but hard on me mentally,” explained Carter. “You go from knowing everything at every position to starting all over. I’ve been doing an OK job. I’ve been doing all right. I know the plays, but it’s the little details I don’t know just yet or how exactly he wants this or wants that. I think I’m getting there day by day. Just trying to get better.”

Notre Dame’s staff knows Carter or any other player isn’t going to completely master the playbook in two months on campus, but there is an expectation to play physical football and make plays, which he’s done. 

“I think the first day with pads, there was a thud in the alley and you look around and were like ‘Oh, that was ‘Tone,’” said safeties coach Chris O’Leary. “That’s been great because a focus on us was our violence going into this season and I’ve seen it in, whatever, 10 practices now, it’s night and day. From top to bottom the guys hit.” 

Perhaps last week's scrimmage at Mishawaka High School gave Carter a confidence boost too. It wasn’t a pick-six or an incredible athletic feat that boosted him emotions, but rather being able to compete and bring the violence O’Leary wants from the group. 

“In the scrimmage, in the one-on-ones going against these receivers and coming down, making tackles, it’s like, ‘You know what? I do belong here,’” Carter explained. “The physicality is there. The mental is there. Now it’s just getting the little details down and getting super comfortable to where I never mess up. That’s what I’m trying to work on. Just getting all the details down. Learning how to be a safety.”

Carter is quick to give credit to Notre Dame’s returning core at safety as they’ve embraced him, but also helped him with the playbook and adjusting to life in South Bend. 

“DJ (Brown) and X (Xavier Watts),” Carter said of who has helped him. “They are the main starters, I’m trying to pick their brains and figure out like, ‘On this play, how should I do this?’ ‘Did you see my rep? How did that look?’

“T-Harp (Thomas Harper) as well, because he’s in a similar position as me. He’s been here a little longer, but he’s also a transfer. Just the older guys that have been here that know the ropes.”

The detail that might have slipped under the radar is the fact O’Leary and Mike Mickens have a history of expediting the learning process for a transfer.  A year ago, Brandon Joseph was acclimating to life at Notre Dame and the secondary also welcomed Nick McCloud a few years ago. 

O’Leary knows the challenges of picking up the nuances of Golden’s defense and where he can really help Carter speed up his process, but also when to push and back off. 

“He’s helped me a lot,” Carter said. “He’s hard on me for sure. He doesn’t let me slack at all. That’s what I need to get to the place I want to be, the future and the player I want to be. I definitely need to listen.”

Another reason Carter was intrigued with Notre Dame’s defense was Golden’s willingness to play three safeties at a time. The personnel grouping has become more common in football, but Golden and Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo have somewhat led the charge. 

Carter and Brown are working at the Aztec position, which allows Notre Dame to get a bigger safety on the field, but also add more athleticism to the defense. It will come in handy on passing situations, but also against a team like USC who is going to use every inch of the field. 

“That’s cool,” Carter stated. “That’s where I play the Aztec position. That is definitely cool. I get to do different things like blitz, cover, get in the post, play curl/flat. Different things like that. That’s perfect for me because I do see myself as versatile. I do love that package for sure.”

If you’re thinking it’s similar to Rover, you’d be correct. 

“A very versatile position,” explained Carter. “You’re in the box, but you get deep as well. You cover. You blitz. It’s kind of like a rover, I guess you would say. More of an athletic rover.”

Regardless of position, it’s clear Carter has been embraced by the safety room as the group continues to push each other. 

“We have a great group of guys,” said Carter. “Guys that can lead and who are smart. We have younger guys that can play as well. As the older guys, we have to lead them, let them know how to go about different things. We’ll be just fine.”

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