Ki-Jana Carter: Running back (92-94)
I’m not sure what the criteria for the nomination process are for the CFB Hall of Fame, but the fact that took LaVar Arrington 23 years and Ki-Jana Carter 29 years to be nominated tells me it’s slightly flawed.
Coming to Penn State from Westerville (Ohio) South as a Parade All-American in 1991, Carter saw limited game time his freshman year due to senior Richie Anderson’s presence in the backfield. However, what little bit of action Ki-Jana saw, he made the most of, rushing for 264 yards on only 42 attempts (6.3 yards per carry) and four TDs. People started to notice Carter’s ability, so much so that sophomore J.T. Morris transferred to Liberty University because he saw the writing on the wall.
Ki-Jana’s sophomore campaign was also Penn State football’s inaugural Big Ten season. Splitting time with fellow running backs Mike Archie and Stephen Pitts, Carter led the team in rushing with 1026 yards on 155 attempts (6.6 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns. He helped power the offense of a team that went 10-2 and destroyed #6 Tennessee 31-13 in the Citrus Bowl. But just like the saying goes, Carter was saving the best for last.
1994 was a year of symmetry for both the Penn State football program and Ki-Jana individually. His 1,539 on 198 carries (7.8 yards per rush) is still to this day the third-best single-season yards rushing in Penn State history. The 23 rushing touchdowns that year are the second most in a season, behind Lydell Mitchell’s 26 TDs in 1971.
Penn State achieved an undefeated season, securing their inaugural Rose Bowl victory in school history. However, they were unjustly denied the National Championship when the pollsters controversially voted Nebraska as the top-ranked team. Ki-Jana Carter also fell victim to injustice, finishing second in the Heisman Trophy voting behind Colorado’s running back, Rashan Salaam. Although Salaam accumulated an impressive 2,055 rushing yards, it’s important to note that he did so on exactly 100 more carries. If you were to add another 780 yards to Carter’s remarkable total of 1,539, it would amount to an impressive 2,319 yards.
Ki-Jana Carter emerged as the Cincinnati Bengals’ top pick in the 1995 NFL draft, becoming the last running back to be selected at the coveted #1 overall position. However, Carter’s professional career was marred by unfortunate injuries. He spent six seasons with the Bengals, followed by two seasons with Washington, and concluded his final two seasons with the New Orleans Saints before retiring in 2004.