Counting their blessings: Tyrone and April Carter handle adversity

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 19, 2014 - 3:01 PM

Former Gophers standout safety Tyrone Carter focuses on the positive despite his wife April's paralysis following an ATV accident.

The trash talk flows nonstop from Tyrone Carter’s mouth as if he’s trying to intimidate an opponent on a football field.

“You’re in trouble,” he said, repeating it nine times.

This is the same fiery edge Carter displayed in a Gophers uniform, an All-America safety who was named college football’s best defensive back as a senior. Former Gophers coach Glen Mason describes Carter as one of the five toughest players he had in 35 years of coaching.

His competitiveness begins to percolate again, except Carter isn’t staring down a receiver. His target sits across the kitchen table, unaffected by his playful taunts.

His wife, April, smiles and quietly studies her next move. She knows the drill. Their daily games of dominoes often become so intense that April’s mom interjects: “Let’s get ready to rumble!”

It’s no contest on this day. The more Tyrone woofs, the worse the score becomes, until April closes with a bang to win 150-50.

“She skunked me,” Tyrone says, gracious but not surprised.

His wife never stops proving how tough she is, in reminders both big and small.

An ATV accident in 2004 left April paralyzed from the chest down. She flew off the machine while making a slow turn and crushed the 7th thoracic (T7) vertebra in the middle of her back. She was 25 and had been married to Tyrone for less than a month.

Confined to a wheelchair for the past 10 years, April refuses to accept her disability as a deterrent. She’s grateful that she has full use of her arms. She drives a specialized minivan with hand controls and goes fishing at every opportunity. She’s taken cruises to Costa Rica and Turks and Caicos and visited other countries on vacation.

Best of all, she and Tyrone had two children — Tyra (7 years old) and Tyree (4) — after her accident, both delivered by Caesarean section.

“I’m very faithful,” she said. “I believe things happen for a reason. I just never looked at it in a bad way.”

The family relocated from Florida to the Twin Cities a year ago so that April can be near her family. She grew up in Minneapolis and graduated from North High School. Tyrone considers Minneapolis his adoptive home after starring for the Gophers and then being drafted by the Vikings in 2000.

Now retired after an 11-year NFL career, Tyrone has turned his focus to helping football players (youth to college level) develop their individual skills. He started a company — TC Elite Training School — that hosts camps that offer coaching from former NFL players, including Randy Moss. He held his second camp recently at Cooper High School.

Tyrone said his family’s journey to this point hasn’t always been “peaches and cream,” but he and his wife made a conscious decision to focus on the gifts in their life, not any limitations.

“I told her, ‘Hey, you’re going to continue to enjoy your life, it’s just in a chair,’ ” he said. “That’s not stopping you from having fun and still smiling and doing what you love.”

• • •

As a prep recruit from Florida, Carter never had been on an airplane and knew nothing about Minnesota when the Gophers offered him a scholarship. Actually, he knew about the Vikings and the TV show “Coach” but that was the extent of it.

He nearly froze to death on his recruiting visit.

“All I could think about was, ‘Man, I’m not coming to this school,’ ” he recalled.

But he loved then-Gophers coach Jim Wacker and appreciated how friendly everyone acted to him. Carter packed a powerful punch in his 5-9, 195-pound body. He ended his Gophers career as the school’s all-time leader tackler and won the Jim Thorpe Award as a senior.

“He’s a tone-setter for your program,” Mason said.

Carter met April during his final season in Dinkytown, and they married in 2004 when he played for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Three weeks later, April and Tyrone’s sisters went for an ATV ride near their home in Florida.

Tyrone became nervous when they didn’t return home on time, and his heart sank when he received a phone call from his sister. When he arrived on the scene, he saw an ambulance and found is wife unable to move her legs.

Tests revealed the extent of her injury. The first question April and Tyrone asked is if they still could have children. April had surgery and spent three months in a rehabilitation center. Steelers owner Dan Rooney personally arranged for her to receive care from top specialists, a gesture that still causes the Carters to gush in gratitude.

April tackled her physical challenges with such resolve that a psychiatrist at the hospital told her that it’s OK if she breaks down emotionally.

April’s response: It could be worse.

“That’s why I’m so thankful,” she said. “I’m able to drive, get around, be mobile for my kids. Not being able to do some of the stuff that I used to do is kind of hurtful. But that’s normal. Every once in a while I’ll think, ‘Yeah, I wish I could do this or that.’ ”

Tyrone admits that his wife’s strength helped him cope with his sadness.

“I broke down more than her,” he said. “I just couldn’t believe that this happened to her. The accident allowed me to really appreciate life more.”

• • •

Carter enjoyed a respectable NFL career. He played in 158 games with four teams and won a Super Bowl with the Steelers. He had plans to get into coaching afterward but found a different outlet to remain connected to the game.

He began training his cousin, Michael, a former Gophers cornerback, in Florida during the offseason. That led to other private workouts with high school and college players, and soon Carter found his niche.

He hopes his training helps develop more college prospects in Minnesota and supplies the Gophers with a larger pool of elite recruits.

“I got heart for my school, and I want to do whatever I can to help them,” he said.

Carter’s weekend camp focuses on improving technique and fundamentals and also includes film study. He said he experienced some initial resistance from one high school coach who teaches different techniques than Carter espouses.

Woodbury coach Andy Hill opened his facilities to Carter for a camp after meeting Carter and hearing his commitment to teaching fundamentals. Hill said he was particularly impressed by how much time Carter and Moss spent with the campers.

“The kids got seven or eight hours of work each day, and Tyrone Carter and Randy Moss were completely hands-on,” Hill said. “One kid described it as Tyrone was the defensive coordinator and Randy was the offensive coordinator, and they were fully into it.”

Carter takes particular interest in kids from tough backgrounds because he walked that path, too. He survived a rough-and-tumble childhood in which both of his parents abused drugs. He often shares his story with kids.

“I let them know that your situation doesn’t dictate your future,” he said. “I had some bumps along the way. I messed up. I was a bonehead. But I still kept that tunnel vision. That’s the message I try to get across to these kids.”

He sees evidence of perseverance every day. She sits across from him at the kitchen table, laughing after her lopsided victory in dominoes. Tyrone couldn’t help but smile, too.


  • related content

  • Video: Tyrone and April Carter handle adversity

    Thursday June 19, 2014

    Tyrone and April Carter focus on the positive things in their life despite the accident that left her paralyzed.

  • Tyrone Carter's NFL statistics

    Wednesday June 18, 2014

  • The world changed for ex-Gophers star Tyrone Carter and his wife April, who was paralyzed in 2004. But the couple stress the gifts they have over any limitations.

  • Four-year-old son Tyree napped on Tyrone Carter’s lap at their St. Louis Park home. Carter and wife April also have a 7-year-old daughter, Tyra.

  • Playing dominoes and caring for their children occupy some of April and Tyrone Carter’s time. “That’s why I’m so thankful,” April said. “I’m able to drive, get around, be mobile for my kids.’’

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