November 19, 2001, was a significant day in Muhlenberg athletics, not for what happened, but for what didn't happen.
For the first time in 34 months, school was in session and Joshua Carter did not have a game or practice to attend.
Carter, a senior from Mt. Vernon, N.Y., is a rarity in modern collegiate athletics: a three-sport athlete. Instead of the traditional seasons, for Carter the calendar cycles by sport: football, basketball, baseball and summer baseball.
Had he not injured his right shoulder playing football as a freshman, Carter might have played three sports at Muhlenberg all four years. He bypassed basketball his freshman year to rest the shoulder, and sat out again this winter to finally get the shoulder operated on in preparation for his last baseball season.
Three-sport athletes were fairly common in the first half of the 20th century, and are still found occasionally in high school. But as the demands of each sport grow and year-round practice becomes expected of collegiate athletes, the trend is toward specialization and concentration on one sport. Until Carter came along, no Muhlenberg athlete had earned a varsity letter in football, basketball and baseball in the same year since the 1940s.
"A lot of kids now aren't as into all the different sports," Carter noted, "and a lot of coaches aren't willing to let you play more than one sport. Plus, there's such a fine line between being, for example, a good receiver and a bad receiver. It might not have anything to do with talent. It's work, and it's a lot of time to put in for three different sports. You're not going to be able to put in as much time as your counterparts, so you're already starting a step off and it's tough to recover from that."
Carter has always seemed a step ahead rather than a step behind. Here's a look at his career, sport by sport:
On the Gridiron"What am I doing here with all these big dudes?" Carter recalled thinking the first day of preseason football camp as a freshman. At the time a self-described "baseball player playing football," Carter didn't start in football until he was in ninth grade.
Little did the 5-foot-7, 145-pound wide receiver and kick returner know that by the time his career was over, he would be one of the "big dudes." Carter has set or tied 26 school records and three NCAA Division III records. He was the first player in team history to earn first-team All-America honors in back-to-back years, and the first to be named Centennial Conference player of the year. "If I had gone to any other Division III school and played football, I don't think I would have had the same impact," said Carter. "Everything just worked out right here. We had the right system, the right style of coaching. The scheme suited me perfectly."
After a solid freshman year, Carter gave a preview of what was in store on the very first play of his sophomore season, when he took the opening kickoff at Kings Point and sprinted 92 yards for a touchdown. "What a way to start the season," he said. "It kind of shocked me."
He'd get used to it. Over the next two seasons, he returned three more kicks for touchdowns, earning first-team All-America honors both years. In 2001, he became the all-time Division III leader in yards on kickoff returns (2,189) and punt returns (1,550), despite the fact that many teams refused to kick to him. "It's frustrating, but I take it as a sign of respect," Carter said. "It's kind of cool to sit back there and watch the ball go out of bounds, and we have great field position without having to do anything. There's a lot of hidden yardage in there that doesn't show up in the stats."
Carter also emerged as an All-Conference receiver as a sophomore. Perhaps the best display of his all-around abilities came in the 1999 season finale against Moravian College, when he scored four touchdowns - two on receptions, one on a rush and one on a kickoff return - and had another touchdown, on a punt return, called back because of a penalty.
Out of all his football records, Carter's most impressive was one that he shared with some 90 teammates. Muhlenberg went 9-2 in 2000, tying the 54-year-old school record for wins in a season, and captured the ECAC Southwest championship. Carter was part of a senior class that recorded 27 wins in four years, the second-most in team history.