Khalil Carter is unlike many in football, a sport that often measures manhood in direct proportion to the size of the dumbbells in the weight room.
First, he has lived with a first name that, when translated he says from the Islamic, means "Friend". Very melodic. Sweet. But when it comes to imposing it's no Axel. Or Butch.
Not to mention he has got a second name that means "Righteous", he's a former Arkansas state bowling champ and when people say he's poetry in motion -- they may be talking as much about his work with a pen as what he can do in football cleats.
Carter can rhyme a sonnet or appreciate a good couplet almost as much as he can appreciate a great defensive scheme. "Absolutely. My mother, Linda, wrote poetry when I was younger. I started off rapping a bit with my dad ... then I started to combine it with poetry. It keeps my mind at ease and I like the creative aspect of it," the Argonauts' defensive back said yesterday, during a break between two-a-day practices at training camp.
If former NFL defensive tackle Rosie Grier can admit to needlepoint and still be all-pro, there's probably room in the sport for a Langston Hughes reincarnate. Through 10 seasons at the University of Arkansas, through a half dozen stops in the Arena and European leagues and now into his fourth season with the Argos, Carter has excelled in a world that celebrates the macho whilst -- at best tolerating -- the bookish. That the two pursuits are polar opposites is not lost on Carter.
"I know, I know. It doesn't fit. We're supposed to be gladiators," he said. "But most of us do have college education despite the public opinion. It's something I love to do in my spare time. I don't keep much of it. I usually give it to my girlfriend or somebody or send it to people to make them feel better. Not going to school anymore I do it to keep my mind sharp. CNN don't do it all, you know."
Carter has worked on the fringes of his sport's spotlight. Last year when defensive coach Rich Stubler had to plug a hole, the answer usually was Carter. He played special teams, filled in at every defensive backfield position and has been the backup holder on field goals.
But, this is his moment. When the Argonauts line up for the season opener, Carter is pencilled in as the starting cornerback for a defence that has a tradition of being the best in the CFL.
"He has been here a couple years and he has got a handle on the system," says Stubler, now the head coach. "To play in our defence, you can't just let a new guy walk out there because ... it's too hard in this system. There's just so much teamwork involved."
Carter is the only newcomer to a backfield that includes defensive back Kenny Wheaton, cornerback Byron Parker, safety Orlondo Steinauer, as well as outside linebackers Kevin Eiben and Chuck Winters. All, except Winters, were CFL all-stars last year. Carter replaces the traded Jordan Younger, also an all-star, and regarded by many as the team's best player in man coverage. Younger always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. Stubler believes Carter can do likewise.
"I remember seeing him play in the Arena League and thought then he was pretty special," Stubler said. "A good corner needs speed, reaction, anticipation; then he has to be able to play with the guys next to him -- in this case Wheaton and Eiben. Khalil can do all of that."
The ball-hawking Argos stole 25 passes last year, including six by Parker while the roving Carter intercepted three -- one for a touchdown. And, he is inviting the rest of the league to believe he's the weak link.
"With (Byron) on one side and me on the other I think we'll be a formidable duo. If they want to continue to pick on me go ahead. They've tried before (and) I've got 40 interceptions in 10 (pro) years and I'm looking for more."
Tough talk. Sweet guy. Good mix. Go figure!