Malcolm Cater surveyed the field and sprang forward. From his middle linebacker position, he put the running back flat on the ground, continued on and then swallowed up the quarterback. On the first play of his first game in a Riverhead uniform, it took all of a few seconds to make his presence known.
“I just went out there to play hard and hit,” said Cater. “I always want to give the hardest hit. I’m always looking for somebody to be slacking and hit them real hard. It’s fun. I love contact and I love the game.”
Cater went on to lead the Blue Waves in tackles with 106, anchoring a defense that allowed just over eight points per game. Riverhead won the county back in 2003 and has reached the playoffs six of the last seven years, but last fall went 12-0 and brought home the first Long Island title in school history. All’s well with a season to go and a repeat in sight, but it wasn’t long ago that the Syracuse-bound linebacker thought his career to be over.
A transfer from Wyandanch, he’d started in the middle of the Warriors’ varsity defense as a freshman; the next season was cancelled, which put Cater on the JV team, where he said he was lining up against “little guys.” Then came the moment that blindsided him like a linebacker coming off the edge and crushing the quarterback–while attending a party last May, he was hit by a stray bullet in the left knee, where it is still lodged. “When that happened, I thought all my dreams of playing football were flushed down the drain,” Cater said. “I didn’t know if I would be able to play.”
He had college and pro aspirations, but safety was a concern in Wyandanch, which is where he grew up – “I feel like I have to protect myself all the time,” he said. He moved to Riverhead in late July and received clearance to resume football activity mere days before the start of the preseason. “He’s an impressive physical specimen,” Blue Waves coach Leif Shay said. “When he first walked in, we thought ‘wow, we might have something’ and then when he started to do tackle drills, we saw how physical he was. He didn’t shy away from anybody.”
Riverhead dismantled West Islip in the county championship and then Elmont to take the Island. In 12 games, the Blue Waves allowed more than 14 points just once. Cat-quick at 6-1 and 215 pounds, Cater’s slated to slide over to the outside at Syracuse, which he chose over Rutgers, UConn and West Virginia. He’s shaved off spare weight and built up his core strength this off-season to go with a “tremendous” upper body, per Shay. Before he can think about the Big East, he has to think about repeating as Long Island champs, a reasonable feat considering Riverhead returns seven starters on defense and six on offense.
“Every game, we said, ‘Let’s do it, step by step,’ and before we knew it, we won the championship,” Cater said. “It was just so much fun doing it with people you really care about. I came out here and it was like a family. It was just a great experience.”