NORMAN — The kids call him Mr. Q.
Quinton Carter is known around college football as a big hitter and a ball hawk, but when the Oklahoma free safety shows up at KinderCare every Wednesday afternoon, no one is impressed by his teeth-rattling hits or his game-changing interceptions.
Lifting up 4-year-olds to dunk a basketball?
Now, that is impressive.
"I wish I had more arms," he said as kids swarmed around him on the playground, "to pick everybody up at once."
The truth is, Carter is giving lots of people a boost.
He has founded a nonprofit charitable foundation that is changing lives not only in Norman but also back home in Las Vegas. He is mentoring at-risk kids. He is supporting in-need dads. He is doing football camps.
While athletes starting foundations is nothing new, most don't do so until they're in the pros.
Carter is still in college.
"I didn't want to wait until I got to the NFL," said Carter, a second-team All-Big 12 selection last season. "I feel this is something I have to do, something I'm supposed to do."
All of those awards like the Lowe's Senior Class Award and the American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team given out to good guys in college football?
Carter should be a shoo-in.
The reason he does what he does is simple yet profound.
And he does a bunch. Ever since arriving at OU four years ago, Carter has been involved with community service projects. He first got started doing work with the student-athlete service groups on campus, but it wasn't enough.
"I want to do more," he always said.
He started working with Community Action, a United Way Agency in Norman. He mentored kids, developed workshops, and donated gift cards and food to needy families.
It still wasn't enough.
He assisted with a mentoring program on campus. Signed up the football team for a green initiative. Worked for Habitat for Humanity. Volunteered with the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon to create visits for Las Vegas school children to Oklahoma City and the memorial.
But all the while, Carter had an even bigger vision. He wanted to start a charitable foundation. He'd even come up with a name — Serving Others through Unity and Leadership.
Then, while Carter was home for a couple weeks last summer, he started talking to his uncle about doing a youth football camp in Las Vegas. It's something they'd discussed before since both Carter and his uncle, a longtime youth coach in the city, had seen promising athletes who'd strayed down wrong paths and thrown away golden opportunities.
They wanted to do a free camp for underprivileged kids that would emphasize not only football skills but also life skills.
"Well," Carter's uncle finally said, "we might as well do it right now."
Two weeks later, they held the first Elevated Play Football Camp.
"It wasn't as organized as we wanted it to be that first year," Carter said, "but it went really well."
About 150 kids attended.
That event launched his charity, too. Since then, he's done another camp that drew more than 200 kids in Las Vegas, and he's started the Gaining Ground mentoring program for low-income families in Norman. That program began Father's Day weekend with an appreciation event for two single, young fathers.
Cheddar's and Charleston's donated lunch.
Spencer Stone did the same with new suits.
Ronnie Hazelwood picked out a grey suit and a plaid tie. He isn't much of a suit-and-tie guy, but one of the monthly get-togethers that Carter has planned with the fathers will be a dress-up event.
"Now," Hazelwood said, "I've got somewhere to wear it."
Carter never had to deal with many of the issues that the people he's helping have encountered. He wasn't a child of privilege, but he was the product of a two-parent household.
He knows that's no small thing.
"They were there supporting me," he said of his parents, Clemon and Sandra. "As I grow up and see a bigger picture, you just start to appreciate things a whole lot more."
His reason for giving so much of his time?
He knows the importance of having someone who believes in you, who supports you, who champions you. That's what his parents did, and now, he's just trying to follow their lead.
Carter makes it all sound so simple, and yet, all the while, he has been a full-time student and a full-time athlete. There are practices and meetings and film sessions, not to mention tests and papers and study halls.
The longer he's been in Norman, the bigger his responsibilities have grown. He became known as an enforcer in the defensive secondary last season. With the departure of Dom Franks and the move of Jonathan Nelson from strong safety to cornerback, Carter will need to provide stability this season. He also added a minor in nonprofit organizational studies to his sociology/criminology major.
How did he find the time and the energy for all of this community service?
"I don't play video games," he said.
He chuckled, then smiled.
"Seeing that you make a difference," he said, "that's really a motivation."
So it was that Carter added his latest activity — volunteering at KinderCare in Norman. He first visited during the spring after a suggestion from a neighbor, and he was hooked right away. Not long after, he asked if he could adopt the 4-year-old class.
"I did not approach him or anything," said Wanda Ramirez, who oversees the child-care center. "It was all his doing."
Since then, he's helped plant flowers and brought pizza for the kids. Snow cones are planned for later this summer. But more than anything, he connects with the kids. He listens to every story. He holds every hand. He plays every game.
When Carter went home for a couple weeks earlier this summer, the kids actually got mad. They couldn't figure out where he'd gone. They couldn't understand why he wasn't visiting anymore.
That's how much the kids love Mr. Q.
"He is so good with the kids," Ramirez said. "He goes beyond."
Indeed, he does. Way, way beyond.
Want to know more? Contact SOUL, the nonprofit charitable foundation started by Oklahoma football player Quinton Carter, at firstname.lastname@example.org.