Hillsborough High's Zachary Carter always has been musically inclined. The interest began in church. His grandfather, Frank Carter Sr., was the founding pastor of First Missionary Baptist Church in Highland Pines.
Carter started singing in the choir. Then in sixth grade, he belted out Justin Bieber's Baby during a talent show. In middle school, Carter also started playing the trombone in the band.
Sports, especially football, were somewhat of an afterthought.
Carter played for three years in youth leagues (ages 7-9) before quitting to try baseball and basketball. It was not until the eighth grade that he started playing football again.
"I was pretty sure I was going to play football in high school, so I figured I might as well get a head start," he said.
In three years with the Terriers, Carter has made incredible strides, so much that the 6-foot-5, 240-pound defensive end is rated as a four-star prospect by nearly every recruiting service and is ranked among the top 115 players in the nation.
He headlines a stellar 2017 class of area prospects that includes five players ranked in the top 250 on 247Sports' national composite list of recruits.
"(Zachary) is probably the most improved player to come through here in all my years here," longtime Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia said.
Carter's rapid ascension has gotten the attention of colleges. He has 25 offers from schools such as Clemson, Florida, Ohio State and Southern California.
Carter said he averages five letters a day from colleges. His parents help sort through the abundance of mail.
"We basically throw out any letter that is not handwritten," Carter said. "My mom keeps the rest of them in a box for me."
As a freshman, Carter started the final five games as an offensive tackle. In 2014 he played both ways on the line and shined as a defensive end, registering 73 tackles and three sacks.
Carter's stock really soared in the past year. He finished his junior season with 76 tackles and 5.5 sacks. He also played some as a tight end.
"Zach's production pretty much doubled this past year," Garcia said. "And it could double again this coming season. That's how much potential he has. He's just scratching the surface. I'd put him right up there with Jordan Sherit (Florida) and Andrew Williams (Miami/San Francisco 49ers) as far as the top defensive line guys we've had in the program."
The football prowess runs in the family. Carter's older brother Frank was a star defensive lineman at Hillsborough and now starts at Jacksonville State.
"My brother pretty much got me started in football," Carter said. "I kind of followed him."
The two also were in the choir together. But the musical interests are not as strong for Carter. He stopped playing in the band once he reached high school and has not entered any talent shows of late.
"I pretty much keep the singing to the choir," Carter said.
Now his time is spent in the weight room and in the classroom (he holds a 3.1 grade point average). Soon, he'll have to start whittling down his list of offers, but he is no rush to make a decision. He said he likely would announce where he's going on national signing day next February.
"I don't know about the singing. I'll have to take others' word on that," Garcia said.
"I just know Zach is a darn good football player and will be able to go pretty much wherever he wants."
Contact Bob Putnam at [email protected]tampbay.com. Follow @BobbyHomeTeam.