My little brother Kaylan was my best friend. We did everything together growing up, playing video games and sports in the backyard. We even shared a room. It was a typical sibling rivalry I guess you could say. He was a Raiders fan. I was a 49ers fan. We'd do things like race each other down the grocery aisles and fight. We were always trying to one up each other.
Kaylan was one of the most competitive guys I've ever known. We would compete in everything and any time we were competing, and he lost, he always wanted to keep going. He'd never quit. He had a lot of heart.
That dynamic we had as brothers definitely helped us out on the football field. We already had that competitive nature in us -- that never quit, never fold mentality -- because we were competing against each other on a daily basis. Especially for Kaylan, being younger. After going up against me every day, going against other kids his age was a piece of cake. He was real good.
Both of us envisioned a future in the NFL. A lot of times, we'd stay up late at night and talk about our hopes of making it to the league -- playing against each other, playing on the same team. It was both of our dreams.
Kaylan never did get to fight for that dream. During my junior year of college, when Kaylan was still in high school, he collapsed on the field during a preseason camp. He was in a coma for about a month and we started to see that he wasn't going to make it. Towards the end, I was at the hospital one day and got the sense that this was probably going to be my time to say goodbye. We got the room to ourselves and I made a promise to him that I was hoping to make it to the NFL for both us -- that I was going to do all the things that he wanted to do, that we wanted to do, for both of us.
For years, there were so many times when I could reach out and touch the NFL dream, even hold it in my hand. It started with Baltimore. Going undrafted, after a pretty good college career and testing well on my Pro Day, I definitely had a chip on my shoulder. I wanted to prove myself to everybody and the Ravens gave me that first opportunity.
When they released me, it was tough. It was really the first time in my life that somebody told me I wasn't good enough. If you make it to that point, you've been one of the top two, three guys on your team since Pop Warner. To hear I wasn't good enough at my sport, something I've been doing my whole life, it really affected me. I lost confidence in myself.
We got the room to ourselves and I made a promise to him that I was hoping to make it to the NFL for both us -- that I was going to do all the things that he wanted to do, that we wanted to do, for both of us. - DeAndre Carter
I did everything I could to build that confidence again. I started getting back into that mindset of "I know I can do this. I know that I'm good enough to play at this level. I just have to go out there and show it."
When I got picked up by Raiders a couple weeks later, I felt like I was playing well. I was making plays in practice and stuff like that. But when it came down to it, they felt like they needed to sign a linebacker. They had to let me go for a roster spot and that was my first time being exposed to the numbers side of the NFL. Even if you're doing well, the team might just have different needs at that time. Then, it was off to New England. Another team, another cut.
After getting released for the third time, I was in a bad headspace. Nobody picked me up that entire 2016 season. I showed up at the house of my mentor -- the old varsity defensive backs coach at my high school -- Eddie Smith at 3 a.m.
If there was a person who could help me get out of where I was at that point, it was Eddie. He first came into my life when I was in the eighth grade, going into my freshman year. Eddie saw me working out in the weight room and asked, "You want to play varsity?" And, of course, who is gonna say no to that. He said, "If you could do 20 pull ups in a row, I'll get you on varsity." So I did it and I even pumped out a few more to show this guy that I was really serious.
Eddie knew that the next step was college and that I was trying to get a scholarship. He told me, "I've been where you're trying to get to and if you've ever got a question, you can come ask me. And if I don't know the answer, I'm gonna find out."
Ever since then, we've been tight. He'd take me to school at 5:30 in the morning and we'd work out before I had class. I remember, back then, he always used to tell me, "Don't be afraid to be great." At that time, I didn't understand what that even meant. Why would anybody be afraid to be great? But I've realized it's about the work required. The people who aren't great, the people who don't reach their potential, they're afraid of the work that it takes to get to a level of greatness. Eddie is really the main reason for the work ethic I have. The support and inspiration he's given to me has meant everything in this journey.
When I was back in the Bay Area, after getting cut by the Patriots, Eddie actually helped set me up with a job as a substitute teaching at Martin Luther King Middle School. I loved it. I wanted to be that person that kids could come to about their home problems. Those kids were really going through a lot and that experience taught me a lot about the value of perspective. Here I was, all in my feelings about not making an NFL roster, and these kids are coming to school not having any food for lunch.
I didn't push pause on the NFL dream -- our NFL dream -- during that time. Before and after teaching, Eddie and I would work out, doing all we could to keep me in shape, as I waited for that call.
In February of 2017, that call we were waiting for finally came. That process of bouncing around the league didn't stop, though. I went from San Francisco to Philadelphia to Houston to Chicago.
The people who aren’t great, the people who don’t reach their potential, they’re afraid of the work that it takes to get to a level of greatness. Eddie is really the main reason for the work ethic I have. The support and inspiration he’s given to me has meant everything in this journey. - DeAndre Carter
I can see how it can be tough to stay motivated with all the uncertainty that comes with this profession. You can play well one day and be cut the next, never knowing if you'll ever get the opportunity to play again.
For me, though, I never lost sight of my "why." The promise to Kaylan is what got me out of bed -- and still gets me out of bed – each morning to empty the tank and stay ready. He is what kept me going.
And he's why I'm here today, suiting up for the Washington Football Team. I was excited when I learned that Washington had interest in me last spring. Watching film, I could see they always got after it on special teams and I also had tremendous, tremendous respect for Coach Rivera.
Everything that's happened this season for me so far, I see it as truly just a blessing and a testament to God. I think that He put me through all those trials and tribulations -- getting cut, not being in the league, things like that -- to prepare me for this moment. I'm grateful for it and I'm trying to make the most of an opportunity, each and every day.
Eddie helps remind me of that. We talk every day. He's the very first person I text in the morning and we have this little thing we say to each other. He texts me, "One day at a time" and I text him, "Be great today." So, that's what I'm focused on, because I know that you only get one chance in life to do whatever you want to do, to be whatever you want to be, to leave whatever mark you're going to leave.
There's not a time I step on the field that I don't think of my little brother. If I could say one thing to him now, I would ask him if he's proud of me. It's my goal when I get up every day, my mission in life, to make him proud. I guess I'd just want to know if I'm accomplishing that and if there's anything else he'd want to see me do.