Minium: Yes, it's Been a Tough Year, but Sean Carter Wouldn't Trade his Time at ODU for Anything
By ODU Athletics
By Harry Minium
The fence in front of the north end zone, crushed by celebrating Old Dominion University students, was fixed before ODU's next home game. But for Sean Carter, the memory of watching thousands of students rush onto the field at Foreman Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium is one he will always savor.
“Watching the students take down the fence was one of the best moments of my life,” senior safety Sean Carter said, recalling the events of Sept. 22.
It was seconds after previously winless ODU knocked off No. 13 Virginia Tech 49-35 in one of the biggest college football upsets ever. He and standout defensive end Oshane Ximines ran to the student section and stepped atop a platform.
They were leading a student celebration when they looked down and saw the fence giving way.
“We looked at each other and decided we’d better get down now,” he said
“Then we saw the whole fence go down and the students began to run all over the field. Oh my God, it was a beautiful sight to see.”
Redshirt senior Sean Carter is fifth among ODU's career tackling leaders with 210.
So far, this hasn’t been a beautiful season for ODU, which is 1-6 in spite of returning its largest senior class.
But no matter how this season ends, it won’t change the fact that Sean Carter turned out to be a fine Football Bowl Subdivision player, and that he helped make history at ODU.
A 6-foot, 185-pound linebacker at Colonial Forge High just outside of Fredericksburg, Carter was an all-league player who was too small to warrant more than a sniff from Division I schools.
Five years later, redshirt senior ranks among ODU’s top five career tacklers with 210, and he’s got five games left to play. He also has intercepted six passes and recovered four fumbles.
Only two Division II schools offered him partial scholarships. His dad, Darin Pearson, didn’t think that was good enough.
He reached out to then-ODU assistant coach Michael Zyskowski at his son’s suggestion.
All Carter wanted was a chance to try out and prove he could play. And when he saw that ODU was moving up to FBS, that’s where he wanted to go.
Coach Z, as he is known, asked to see Carter’s film. Days later, Carter got an invite to visit ODU.
“We didn’t know a lot about Sean, because we don’t recruit walk-ons the same way you recruit scholarship kids,” said Zyskowski, who now coaches at UConn.
“Bill Brown, the coach at Colonial Forge, spoke highly of him, and as we did our research, found him to be a good student and a good kid.”
ODU asked him to come as a preferred walk-on, one of the NCAA limit of105 players in training camp.
Carter was No. 105.
“The way this all happened, it was meant to be,” Carter said. “It was definitely meant to be.”
He impressed right away and earned a spot on the roster.
“He worked so hard,” defensive coordinator Rich Nagy said. “And he understands football. He studies the game.”
Carter would not earn a scholarship until two years later.
ODU is struggling this season, but safety Sean Carter says he wouldn't trade his career at ODU for anything.
Life as a scholarship athlete is difficult enough. But if you’re paying your own way, it can beat you down. You don't have time to work, as most students do at ODU. His parents helped, he took out loans and he worked as much as he could during the offseason.
After sitting out a season, Carter played in 12 games as a redshirt freshman at safety. He started three and was sixth on the team in tackling.
But he was getting in too far over his head financially. He had already taken out $18,000 in loans. “I didn’t know how much longer I could do this,” he said.
Finally, coach Bobby Wilder put him on a full scholarship, and life has been pretty good ever since.
He played on ODU’s first bowl game in 2016, when the Monarchs finished 10-3 and defeated Eastern Michigan in the Bahamas Bowl.
“Going to the Bahamas Bowl was an awesome experience,” he said. “We struggled the previous two seasons. We had just moved up and were figuring out what it takes to win in FBS.
“Winning a bowl game, we knew that’s what this program could do.”
Carter’s parents split when he was younger, but he’s had great family support. He has two fathers, two mothers and six siblings in his blended family.
“I could not be more blessed,” he said. “I love them all.”
He’s lived with his father since he was 2, and his dad proved to be pretty wise when Carter decided to quit his Pop Warner team at about age 12.
“My dad was sneaky,” he said. “He said, ‘Sean, let’s just go to one game and if you don’t love it, it’s OK for you to quit.’ ”
Carter watched his former teammates lose to a team they should have beaten. That was all he needed to see.
“I realized how much I love football,” he said.
Carter graduated with a degree in sports management and a minor in criminal justice last spring. He’s taking four courses this fall, including the exercise science classes, that will help him prepare for what he hopes will be a coaching career.
“I want to coach in college,” he said. “I love football. I love being around it. I love studying it. I can do football 24 hours per day.
“I love helping other players get better. Football is where my heart is.”
And he says the win over Virginia Tech is the highlight of his playing career.
“Having fans rush the field after you beat someone, that’s something you dream about as a football player,” he said.
“Coach Wilder said that’s a game we’ll never forget, and he’s right. Twenty-five years from now, I’ll still be talking about it as one of the greatest times in my life.
“I’m so glad I came to Old Dominion. The coaches here have been great. I love going to school. It’s worked out so much better than I thought it would.”