FRISCO, Texas -- Draw up a blueprint for the ideal football star: What qualities spring to mind?
A charismatic demeanor helps connect with the fans. Words and actions alike command the respect of teammates and coaches. And -- oh yeah -- he better be a star-quality player on the field.
Ron’Dell Carter checks all of those characteristics.
The 2019 Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year, 1st Team All-American and Buck Buchanan Award finalist no doubt has star-player game. Carter racked up 11.5 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss leading up to James Madison’s National Championship Game appearance.
Carter has undeniable NFL potential, combining explosion off the line with pro size at 6-foot-3, 275 pounds. And as for the team that drafts him, he has the personality to be an instant fan favorite.
Naturally funny, thoughtful and candid, Carter is an interviewer’s dream. He exudes the confidence of a star, with humility that reflects the tireless work he’s put in to reach this point.
And as for commanding the respect of those around him, Dukes coach Curt Cignetti states it best.
“Ron'Dell has such a huge personality. When he talks, people listen,” Cignetti said.
Cignetti emphasized James Madison has a few of “those guys” -- veteran leaders who set and enforce an example for teammates to follow -- but that Carter is “alpha dog.”
The standout defensive end’s presence provided a necessary foundation on which Cignetti and the new coaching staff taking over at James Madison before this season built.
Carter takes pride in the role he played steadying the program during the transition.
“Coaching matters,” he said. “But it’s the seniors that make up a team, I believe. And I think a lot of coaches will say the same thing. Senior leadership will dictate a team. Those are the guys who are going to make sure the stuff the coaches don’t see doesn’t happen, off the field issues.”
In that regard, Carter’s contributions carried as much weight in James Madison reaching the National Championship Game as his lofty pass-rushing statistics.
Cignetti came to Harrisonburg with a lengthy coaching track record, winning virtually everywhere as both a head coach and assistant, where at Div. II Indiana University Pennsylvania, JMU’s CAA counterpart Elon, and alongside Nick Saban at Alabama.
And having experienced what goes into winning football, Cignetti understood the value in character akin to Carter’s.
“To have leadership that steps up off the field in those moments that you don't even know about, you have no idea about, a lot of great teams have that kind of guy,” he said.
Carter has the respect of his coaches and teammates alike, in part because respect is a two-way street.
Amid the individual accolades and possible NFL future, he says one thing matters most to him with the Dukes on the brink of a national title.
“I play for these guys; for guys like Rashad [Robinson] and Dimitri [Holloway], who overcome drastic injuries, for them to be able to bounce back, have the opportunity to win a championship,” he said. “I definitely want a ring on my finger by the end of this week. [But] like I said, I play for these guys. These are my guys right here, and the rest of the guys in that locker room.
“I want to do it for them, I want to do it for this school,” he added.
Nothing could make Carter’s star shine any more brightly in Harrisonburg than a championship, but he also hopes it leaves a lasting impression.
Carter cited Dukes of the past for crafting his blueprint: Aaron Ankrah, Simeyon Robinson, and others, and simply working to carry on their legacies.
“They laid that foundation. I was a sophomore when I got here, and I was able to follow what they did,” Carter said. “They won CAA championships and they won a [national championship] ring. And I’m like, ‘Well, alright. I want a part of that. How did they do it?’
“When I leave,” he continued, “I hope the guys will be able to follow what I’ve left.”
The mark of a true star is the ability to establishing a long-lasting legacy. Ron’Dell Carter is well on his way.