Zachary Carter just missed out on playing in the Under Armour All-America Game — but not by much. • The annual showcase for the top high school football players in the nation held an online contest to determine the final two roster spots. Carter, a Hillsborough High senior, started his own social media campaign and rocketed to the top on the final weekend of voting. • But others surged ahead just hours before the deadline. • "I got pretty into it," Carter said. "I was putting it out there on Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, you name it. My parents and I suspected there was some cheating involved. My dad is an engineer and he said he thinks there was a bot that was doing the voting for another kid." • Though he did not win the fans' vote, Carter's popularity with colleges is not in doubt. • The 6-foot-5, 250-pound defensive end is rated as a four-star prospect by ESPN and is the Tampa Bay Times' top local recruit in the 2017 class.
Carter has offers from 41 colleges, including Alabama, Clemson, Florida and Michigan. He orally committed to the Gators in June, hoping his early decision would get rid of the attention from coaches and recruiting services wanting to know where he would go.
But suitors kept calling. The only school that could possibly pry Carter from Florida? USF. He's on an official visit with the Bulls this weekend, the final one before Wednesday's national signing day.
"Charlie Strong is pushing real hard to try and get me to stay home," Carter said of the USF coach. "I'm pretty sure I'll stick with UF, but we'll see."
Carter ascension is even more remarkable considering he played three years in youth leagues (ages 7-9) before quitting to try baseball and basketball. It was not until the eighth grade that he restarted football.
During his career with the Terriers, Carter made incredible strides. As a freshman, he 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 as a junior. He finished that season with 76 tackles and 5½ sacks. He also was selected by the Times as the top junior in the area.
His play this past season was more than enough to keep him at No. 1. Carter moved to defensive tackle to help the team. Offensive linemen still had trouble containing him. Carter, after all, has the quickness of a running back and power of a bull.
Despite taking on more blockers, Carter still recorded 56 tackles and 6½ sacks.
"Zach obviously passes the eye test," said Armwood coach Sean Callahan, who has had his share of premier defensive linemen. "He can run a play at an extremely high level. We've seen it for four years.
"You have to game-plan, scheme around him. We tried to get as many bodies as possible. But he still can play from behind because he is so quick. Only great players can do that."
The praise — and accolades — extend beyond the football field. Carter was given the principal's award for having the highest grade-point average (above 4.0 weighted) among the seniors on the team.
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Now Carter's trying one last time to win the popular vote — for prom king. He has pinned a tweet on his account, urging students to spread the word.
"Zach is a master of social media," Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia said. "He's also an unbelievable football player, one of the best to ever come out of here."
Contact Bob Putnam at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @BobbyHomeTeam.