Anyone can score a defensive touchdown. Right place, right time, ball is coughed up and you take it the opposite direction for the touchdown.
But to come up with a textbook tackle – that takes talent.
When given the choice between one or the other, the decision for River Ridge High School senior linebacker Zach Carter is an easy one.
“I’d rather have the tackle over the touchdown every time,” Carter said. “The whole crowd gets into big hits. Everybody loves defense. It’s just an incredible feeling when you have that perfect tackle.”
No Hawks’ player in the school’s 23-year history has felt that blissful feeling more than Carter.
The program’s all-time leader in career tackles, Carter has manned the middle of River Ridge’s defense for the past four years.
However, ask him to talk about his record-setting numbers and you’ll likely get a shrug.
“To be honest, I didn’t even know I had the record until someone told me,” Carter said. “I don’t really pay too much attention to stuff like that.”
The previous tackles Carter has registered are all in the past, forgotten and simply part of his lengthy highlight reel. His main focus is always on the upcoming play and on the next devastatingly hard hit.
“That’s what I like. Every play I’m always looking for the contact,” Carter said. “I’m going to hit somebody. I think that’s what stood out about me (as a freshman). I was always ready to hit somebody. I never shied away from contact at all.”
Growing up with an older brother and several older cousins, Carter developed a linebacker’s mentality early one – hit or be hit, you’re either the hammer or the nail.
Surprisingly, the 6-foot, 235-pound Carter started off as the latter.
“When I was younger I was always getting roughed up by my cousins when we played,” Carter said with a smile. “I guess it helped because now I am the hammer.”
Carter earned 2A South Puget Sound League’s defensive MVP last year, helping River Ridge to its first undefeated regular season in school history and an appearance in the state tournament.
He’s been even more productive during the early portion of his final season, spearheading the Hawks’ undefeated 3-0 start this year.
“As a leader I try to lead with my actions. I’m not too vocal (in practices), but on the field I can get pretty vocal,” Cater said. “We want to leave a legacy this year, continue to build some tradition.”
That’s something Carter is well on his way to accomplishing as the tackles continue to add up at a record pace.
“Just being out on the field every week with my brothers, just going to war is what’s important to me,” Carter said. “Every week we just keep getting better. We feel more like a family with every game. It’s just gotten better and better.”
River Ridge opened last season with 10 consecutive victories, claiming its first outright league championship in the process, before bowing out of the 2A state tournament following a 17-6 first round defeat to North Kitsap in a rain-soaked contest.
It was the second straight year the Hawks were bounced out in the opening round – something that didn’t sit well with Carter and served as his summer motivation.
“That (game) was just a dagger right to the heart. That was a game we should have been able to win,” Carter said. “I thought about (the game) every day during the offseason. I had to get better, had to get stronger. Now that the season started I don’t think about it too much. It’s still there in the back of my mind, but now it’s all about the next week, the next game.”
River Ridge, which has won 20 out of its last 21 regular season games over the last three years, has benefited greatly with Carter leading its defensive attack as the Hawks have advanced to the state playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time ever.
With a third straight appearance potentially on the horizon, Carter has now set his sights on the next task as the last time the team won a state playoff game was in 1998 – the year he was born.
“We’re just trying to make it further and further every year,” Carter said. “We want to go all the way this year, break through that barrier.”