GREENSBORO — Kylil Carter was a high school senior and all set to be the next great quarterback at Florida A&M.
But then the Rattlers, coming off a 40-21 loss at N.C. A&T’s Greatest Homecoming On Earth, fired Coach Earl Holmes eight games into his second season.
That October day in 2014 set the stage for this week’s game in Tallahassee, when No. 11 A&T plays Florida A&M on Saturday in Tallahassee.
After the coaching change, Carter decided to visit A&T. He committed to the Aggies on the spot, and now the fifth-year player will make his first start against the program he originally chose.
“We want this one real bad. Real bad,” Carter says. “We don’t want to lose another game this year. And we especially don’t want to lose to them after the way we lost last year.”
A&T went 10-2 last season, and one of the losses was a 22-21 heartbreaker at home against the Rattlers that nearly cost the Aggies their Celebration Bowl berth.
“We want to make this one a statement game,” Carter says. “That one definitely has stuck with me for a whole year. And I’m pretty sure it has with other guys on this team. … We’ll have a little more bounce in practice this week, a little more pep in our step.”
Carter heads into the game on a remarkable personal streak.
As a true freshman in 2015, Carter played part-time behind senior starter Kwashaun Quick. In the first Celebration Bowl, Carter threw a third-and-9 pass in the second quarter that was intercepted by Alcorn State’s Anthony Williams.
It was Carter's only interception that season. And he hasn’t thrown one since.
Carter has played in 25 games since that pick, completing 123 of 223 passes for 1,431 yards and 14 touchdowns. He makes it sound easy.
“Get the ball out fast,” he says, “and know where you’re going with it.”
It helps to have good receivers, of course, and Carter’s group led by Elijah Bell, Zach Leslie and Korey Banks is superb.
Bell is the Aggies’ all-time leader in catches, receiving yards and receiving TDs. Leslie led the team in catches last season, and he had four catches for 106 yards and two TDs in A&T’s last game when Norfolk State focused on Bell. Banks has become a reliable over-the-middle outlet from the slot.
“It’s a big blessing to me to have those guys,” Carter says. “The ball can go anywhere at any time, and all of those guys can make plays. I’ve just got to get it where they can catch it, and they do the rest … Our coaches stress to take what the defense gives you. If you do that, you can’t go wrong.”
It also helps that Carter is mobile and quick on his feet. He has rushed for 201 yards this season and averages 4.8 yards per carry.
“I’m just taking what the defense gives me,” Carter says. “If nothing’s (open) on a pass play, I’ll try to make something happen with my feet. With our quarterback run game, I’m starting understand the schemes more like a running back, knowing who to follow and what holes to hit.”
Carter remains the only starting quarterback in the MEAC who hasn’t thrown an interception this year. He protects the football at an uncanny rate.
But has he ever forced a pass when he shouldn’t have?
He pauses and grins.
“Um,” Carter says, hesitating. “Yeah, I’ve probably forced throws a couple times here and there. But normally I just try to get it to the open guy.”