Carter returned to leave a legacy at Florida

When Zachary Carter announced his plans to return to Florida for a fifth year following the 2020 season, it came as a bit of a surprise. For Carter, it was a decision he did not take lightly.

After discussing his draft stock with Florida’s staff as well as some former coaches, he did not feel ready to take that leap. Though he’s had a solid career so far, the feedback he got led him back for another season.

He still had work left to do in a Florida uniform.

“I really wanted to leave my mark and leave my legacy at this program,” Carter said. “I think that was important for me.”

Carter not only had unfinished business on the field, but in the classroom. The journalism major wanted to be sure he left Gainesville with a degree in hand.

Whether his redshirt senior season sets him up as a high draft choice or not, he will still be in control of his future.

“I just know that this football stuff, it doesn’t last forever,” he said. “I’m excited that I could possibly have a future in the NFL, but everybody says it stands for ‘not for long’. So it’s just good to have that degree. I think more guys should have that attitude towards football and school.”

While his education is a priority, 2021 could finally be the season for Carter to emerge as the elite player many expected him to be.

With Florida’s lack of depth along the defensive line, Carter has been thrown around and played out of his comfort zone for much of his career. Now that the Gators have some bigger bodies on the roster to fill the gaps, he has the opportunity to move back outside and play defensive end full-time.

While he led Florida with five sacks and 9.5 tackles-for-loss primarily as a defensive tackle in 2020, he is most comfortable on the edge and ready to refocus on it this spring.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve kind of been all over the place,” Carter said. “Just, you know, filling in wherever they need me. I’m that type of guy. But this spring, you know, and moving forward, I plan on trying to master the position.”

On top of refining his own game, Carter is ready to take on more of a leadership role. Florida has a lot of young talent coming in, and he is already pushing them the same way some former Gators pushed him.

“I’ve been in the same position as them before,” Carter said. “I’ve been here, this is going into my fifth year. I’ve sat and watched a lot of older guys in front of me and learned a lot from those guys. Just taking a lot from them, so I want to do the same for a lot of these younger guys.”

One freshman that immediately caught Carter’s eye was defensive tackle Desmond Watson. It is kind of hard not to notice the big man, listed on Florida’s roster at a whopping 432 pounds.

Watson has a lot of work to do on his body before he can compete for playing time, but Carter has confidence that his fellow Tampa-area native will be ready after a few months in Nick Savage’s strength and conditioning program.

“That’s the kind of guys we breed in Tampa,” Carter said. “But I’m really excited for big Des. He’s going to have a bright future. He’s a big kid, though. Big kid. Dang … Once you get a little Savage, it’ll be a little different.” 

Carter seemed to have already benefitted from Savage’s program in the offseason. He cut 13 pounds off his 6’4 frame, now weighing in at 277, as he prepares to take over his new role in the defense and build his Florida legacy.

Bailiegh Carlton
A lifelong sports fan, Bailiegh Carlton knew from a young age that she wanted to work in sports in some capacity. Before transferring to the University of Florida to study journalism, she played softball at Gulf Coast State College. She then interned for Gator Country for three years as she worked toward her degree. After graduation, Bailiegh decided to explore other opportunities in the world of sports, but all roads led her right back here. In her time away, she and her husband welcomed a beautiful baby girl into the world. When she isn't working, she can almost always be found snuggled up with sweet baby Ridley, Cody and her four fur babies.