06/28/12 7:00pm
06/28/2012 7:00 PM

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Malcolm Cater in June 2010 playing for Long Island in the Empire Challenge All-Star game.

By now the rise and fall of Malcolm Cater has been well chronicled, a story that appeared to reach its dreaded conclusion when the former standout football player was sentenced to one to three years in prison in October.

From a troubled childhood that included a stray bullet striking the back of his leg during a fight at a house party to a rebirth in Riverhead, where he lived at the Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch and excelled on the football field for the Blue Waves, Cater’s life has been about overcoming adversity.

Now he has a chance to do it again.

Cater was arrested late in 2010 during his freshman season playing football for the Syracuse Orange, where he was quickly earning a reputation as the kind of fierce competitor Riverhead fans saw every week during his years with the Blue Waves.

He had been busted for burglarizing several on-campus apartments. A slew of serious charges followed and a dismissal from the football program. He eventually pleaded guilty to three counts of third-degree burglary and was sentenced to prison.

And at that moment, it seemed like we might have seen the last of Cater, whose potential had all been wiped away by a few mind-bogglingly bad decisions.

During a recent interview with the Associated Press at Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility in Mineville, N.Y., Cater opened up about what life has been like for him.

“I want to show everyone that the mistake I made was just a bad decision,” Cater said in the interview, which appeared in an array of newspapers and websites Friday, including the Washington Post.

Cater talked about how hard reality hit him when he entered the correctional facility.

He had been given a break and wasn’t going to let that go unnoticed. Rather than being sent to an actual prison, he was ordered to serve in a minimum-security facility that’s known as a “shock camp” for nonviolent criminals.

It was an opportunity for Cater to grow as a person, an example of the penal system working to help someone rather than exacerbating the qualities that sent them there in the first place.

Cater lived in a military environment, according to the AP story, where he worked on academics, received counseling and did tons of physical training.

Cater said in the interview he would run six miles a day on top of other physical training that now has him in the best shape of his life.

Earlier this month Cater was released from the correctional facility without having to serve the minimum one year from his sentence. He has a parole officer in Babylon he reports to as he tries to get his life back on track in the real world.

Will that include football? Possibly.

Cater will turn 21 soon and undoubtedly still has the physical ability to play football at a high level. Where that could be, though, remains to be determined.

Cater said in the interview he’s trying to determine whether he will try to return to Syracuse or go somewhere else.

His journey back to college won’t be anywhere as easy as getting there the first place when a bevy of Big East schools were offering scholarships.

Cater will likely have to start from the ground up, possibly at a small community college where he can prove he’s committed to academics and keeping his life in order. From there, he may find his way back into the college football spotlight.

Some may argue a convicted felon has no place in college football, regardless of circumstances. As a Sports Illustrated/CBS News investigation discovered last year, college football players with a criminal background is hardly a rarity.

After conducting background checks on 2,837 players on the 2010 preseason Top 25 teams, the investigation found seven percent of players has a criminal record. Many were for violent crimes.

There were plenty of examples of players committing crimes similar to what Cater did.

The report shed a spotlight onto the criminal backgrounds of many players, putting a greater emphasis for many schools to thoroughly check potential recruits.

So will a school take a chance on a man like Cater now? Some schools refuse to offer scholarships to anyone convicted of a felony. After serving his time and seeing through the judicial process, does he deserve a chance to play football again?

“This is going to be my last opportunity to make everything right,” Cater said in the AP interview. “I want to be able to show the world that I’m better.”

Anyone from Riverhead who got to know Cater would love to see him make good on those words.

And maybe, there’s still another chapter left to be written in this story.

joew@timesreview.com

12/13/10 9:13pm
12/13/2010 9:13 PM



GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Former Riverhead Blue Wave Malcolm Cater in a high school all-star game earlier this year.



I knew something was up the other day when, after turning my computer on, I saw six straight e-mails with Malcolm Cater’s name in the subject line.

My journalistic sixth sense immediately went to work at super speed.

“Uh-oh,” I thought, “this doesn’t look good.” Cater must be in the news, I thought, and good news doesn’t travel like this.

My heart sank as I read the details pertaining to Cater’s arrest. The Syracuse University football player was charged with burglarizing three apartments on campus and arrested on three counts of burglary and one count of grand larceny, all felonies, as well as two misdemeanor counts of petit larceny. He was being held in a city jail in Syracuse on $150,000 bail.

In response, Syracuse Coach Doug Marrone issued a terse statement declaring Cater no longer part of the Syracuse football program. The former Riverhead High School star’s college football career appears to be over. And that could be the least of it.

What a sobering blow, about as hard as one of Cater’s bone-crunching hits.

If, as the legal process follows its course, these charges are proven true and Cater is found guilty on all counts, he will have thrown away a free education, a promising college football career — one he hoped would lead to the National Football League — and his good name.

“We’re all saddened,” Riverhead Blue Waves Coach Leif Shay said. “The Riverhead football community is saddened. We’re praying for Malcolm and we hope that he finds his way.”

This tragic fall from grace is the latest sharp reversal in the trajectory of his young life. Cater, who has an easygoing manner and engaging smile, had moved to Riverhead from Wyandanch in the hope of a better life. The impetus for the move was his being shot the day before Mother’s Day in 2007. Going against the advice of his mother, Cater went to a party. He said he was leaving the party after a fight broke out when a stray bullet struck him in the leg behind his kneecap.

“You never think you’ll get shot until it happens to you,” he said.

The bullet didn’t do much damage and Cater fully recovered from the injury, but he called the incident “a wake-up call.”

Cater was welcomed with open arms in Riverhead, where he played two memorable seasons and quickly built a well-deserved reputation as a fierce hitter. With a body seemingly sculpted out of muscle, Cater can pack quite a punch. I remember one time during a Riverhead practice when I was scribbling something down in my notebook and I heard the crash of a violent collision of helmets and pads, followed by the “ooohs” and “ahhhs” of players. When I looked up I saw Cater standing over a fallen teammate he had just drilled. Shay said Riverhead never had a player who hit as hard as Cater.

Following his senior season in Riverhead, a season in which he made 103 tackles and 11 sacks in nine games, Cater was named a co-winner of the Carl A. Hansen Award, which goes to the best player in Suffolk County. He shared the honor with his cousin, JeVahn Cruz, who played for the Half Hollow Hills West Colts.

My memories of Cater are of happy times. I remember how Cater, Shay and myself were among the last people to leave the Hyatt Regency Wind Watch in Hauppauge, laughing and joking after a four-hour ceremony that culminated with Cater receiving the Hansen Award. “This is just overwhelming,” Cater said. “This is the highlight of my life right now.”

Then there was that day this past spring in the Riverhead High School library when a smiling Cater, surrounded by family members, signed a national letter of intent to play for Syracuse. His search for a better life would take him to central New York. It was there, though, that something horribly wrong happened.

Cater’s arrest cut short a fine freshman season for the backup middle linebacker. Wearing the same No. 4 that he wore when he was with Riverhead, Cater played in 12 games for the Orange, made 13 tackles and recorded one sack. He was on just about every one of Syracuse’s special teams.

The 6-foot-1, 212-pound Cater was second on the depth chart behind senior middle linebacker Derrell Smith, and appeared on the road to a starting position next season.

What were Shay’s thoughts earlier this week as he digested the upsetting news from Syracuse?

“Just disappointed,” Shay said. “That’s the biggest word. The young man had such a great opportunity. He was doing well. He found a place where he could contribute.”

Of course, it is possible for Cater to revive his football career, but it wouldn’t be easy. Certainly, a lot of that depends on the outcome of the mess he is currently in, but players have rebounded from worse. He would need for a coach to believe in him, and he would need to believe in himself.

Under different circumstances, Cater might still be practicing with Syracuse, preparing for the Orange’s appearance in the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl against Kansas State at Yankee Stadium on Dec. 30. Instead, he faces a court date and an uncertain future.

Mr. Liepa is the News-Review sports editor. He can be reached at 631-298-3200 ext. 240 or at bliepa@timesreview.com