Malcolm Cater embraces opportunity in arena football league

Malcolm Cater appeared to have the world by the tail — at least through two years of high school football with Riverhead and his freshman season at Syracuse University. Playing on a full scholarship for the Orange and wearing the same uniform No. 4 as he did for Riverhead, Cater was second on the depth chart at middle linebacker and looked destined to be a starter his sophomore season.

Nothing could stop him.

Or could it?

“The only thing that really stopped me was myself,” he said.

In December of 2010, Cater was arrested on charges of burglarizing three apartments on campus. He eventually pleaded guilty to three counts of third-degree burglary and was sentenced to one to three years in prison.

“I live up to it,” Cater told the Riverhead News-Review this week in a phone interview. “I had a burglary. I took a TV. It was a teammate’s TV. It was a mistake. It wasn’t the best mistake. I was able to overcome that.”

Cater didn’t go to prison, though, instead serving the minimum one year of his sentence at Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility, a minimum-security “shock camp” for nonviolent criminals in Mineville, N.Y.

It was a detour in Cater’s football — and life — plans.

“It was a terrible regret,” he said. “It bothers me because I could have been in the NFL.”

Cater returned to football. He played one season for Hudson Valley Community College and then two with the University of Charleston in West Virginia.

Now Cater, 27, divorced with three children, is making a run at pro football, reporting to training camp this week for the Carolina Havoc, the defending American Arena League champion.

“Everybody loves a comeback story,” said the 6-2, 265-pound linebacker/defensive end, a resident of Moriches.

Cater was forthcoming, and at times emotional, in his interview with the News-Review. Speaking from his hotel room in Florence, S.C., where the Havoc is based, he was frank about the difficulties in his past and his hope for a future in football.

“I just happened to act carelessly,” he said. “You got to hold that window of an opportunity. You got to cherish it. God had a different route for me. He gave me an opportunity to get it back … I’m excited for the journey. I’ve been through a lot of trials and tribulations.”

He isn’t kidding.

Cater has been through a lot in his life. While leaving a party in Wyandanch in 2007 after a fight broke out, a stray bullet struck him in the leg below his kneecap. That prompted his move from Wyandanch to the Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch in Riverhead.

It was a blessing for Riverhead’s football team to have the addition of Cater, who Blue Waves coach Leif Shay said was the hardest-hitting player he ever had.

Cater became one of the greatest players to come out of Riverhead. Following his senior season, he shared the Carl A. Hansen Award, which goes to the best player in Suffolk County, with his cousin, JeVahn Cruz of Half Hollow Hills West.

When asked about his time in Riverhead, Cater became emotional.

“I had the best memories [of Riverhead] that I could ever have, to be honest,” he said. “I never went to a school that loved their students as much as they loved me … They treated me as their only child.”

Cater suffered a terrible blow in 2013 when his mother, Lisa Cater, died. To this day, he wears a necklace with her photo. “It means a lot to me,” he said.

Cater’s mother isn’t the only special person in his life. He has three children — Malcolm Malik, 8; Lilly-Ana, 4; and Cameron Angelo, 3.

Cater said he wants to be the best provider he can for his kids. He said: “I just want to be able to tell my kids: ‘Daddy made mistakes, Daddy learned from his mistakes and Daddy overcame this.’ ”

Also, Cater said his ex-wife, Danielle Wallace, helped him a great deal. “If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be where I’m at,” he said.

And then there’s Cater’s Uncle Solomon. That would be Solomon Hatcher.

“To be honest, he was like my number one friend,” Cater said. “When it was hard, he was there for me. When it was good, he was there … He was like a father.”

Cater said Hatcher was honest with him and showed the tough love he needed. “The toughest love any man could give to a son or a sibling,” Cater said. “He was amazing. But I needed it. He cut me off for two years, literally. He said, ‘Malcolm, you have to figure it out.’ ”

Cater has never played arena football before. It is different, with eight players a side instead of 11 and a 55-yard field instead of 100 yards.

What doesn’t change, though, is Cater’s confidence in himself and his abilities.

“I’m really strong,” he said. “I’m fast and agile. That’s going to separate me from the competition … What I told [the Havoc] is, ‘What you have coming to you is a guy who will give you his all.’ ”

Cater said he is “blessed” to be given another opportunity to play football. Asked if he’s a religious man, he said he reads scriptures. “I wouldn’t say I’m super religious but I believe in God,” he said. “I believe in God, but I don’t ask God for anything. I just ask for his guidance. I believe my mom is my high power.”

Then emotions surged to the surface again.

“My mom’s up there working, making sure everything’s OK,” he said. “I’ll be damned if I don’t give everything I got.”

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Photo caption: Malcolm Cater playing for Long Island in the 2010 Empire Challenge all-star game at Hofstra University. (Credit: Garret Meade, file)