One summer night in 1973, 20-year-old Kathy Carter sat in a movie
theater in Columbus, Ohio, watching Shaft in Africa, a sequel to the
1971 action film Shaft. The movie featured a little boy, and his name
was Ki-Jana. ''I said, 'I like that name,' '' Kathy recalls. The next
morning she phoned the Black Student Union at Ohio State and found
that kijana means ''young man'' in Swahili. Several weeks later, on
Sept. 12, 1973, Kenneth Leonard Carter was born, and on his birth
certificate, in parentheses, was typed ''Ki-Jana.''
About a year later Kathy was eating breakfast in the kitchen of
her grandparents' home on Whitethorn Avenue in Columbus as little
Ki-Jana sat in his high chair. Nathan Carter, Kathy's 69-year-old
grandfather, said to her, ''I've been watching that little boy. You
feed him well, raise him right. He's going to make you proud.''
He has. In 1994 Ki-Jana, a junior, rushed for 1,539 yards (the
second- highest total in Penn State history, behind Lydell Mitchell's
1,567 in 1971), scored 23 touchdowns and averaged 7.8 yards per
carry, the highest by nearly a full yard of any Division I-A back who
gained at least 1,000 yards.
Numbers, however, are cold and lifeless; Carter is animation. A
compact 5 ft. 10 1/2" and 220 pounds, with stout legs and astonishing
speed, Carter demands to be watched. Says quarterback Kerry Collins,
''The coaches are always telling me to carry out my fakes after
handoffs. But with Ki-Jana's explosiveness, I find myself just
watching him. Then I get yelled at on Monday in meetings.''
''Ki-Jana is a fantastic athlete,'' says Penn State coach Joe
Paterno. ''He's probably the best punter we've got on the team
((though he isn't risked in that endeavor)). He's gotten tougher
since he got here, so now he's real hard to tackle. He came here
good, and he's worked to get better, like every great one we've
Ki-Jana's mother has been his chief ally during his development.
''They were like brother and sister,'' says Notre Dame coach Lou
Holtz, who also recruited Ki-Jana. ''That's what I remember.''
Kathy has long worked 15-hour days at the Columbus beauty shop she
owns. As a result, she missed far more of Ki-Jana's high school games
than she attended. ''I used to go to parents' night at school with my
coaches,'' says Ki-Jana. ''I really wanted my mom to come to my games
and things like that. She always said, 'Baby, I can't, I've got to
Gradually Ki-Jana came to understand and appreciate that. ''She'd
go to work * at nine in the morning and come home at midnight,'' he
says. ''Me and my little brother would cook her dinner -- cereal,
hamburgers, TV dinners. She'd flop in a chair and ask me to take off
her boots and rub her feet. Then she'd fall asleep. I ask the Lord
all the time, 'Just let me repay her.' She gave up her life for her
This is an article from the Jan. 18, 1995 issue