Jumping from youth football to the high school game can be challenging. More than a few kids struggle with the change, and practices can be exhausting.
But for DeAndre Carter, the transition felt especially rough. Football practices the summer before his freshman year left him feeling completely wiped out. He was sleeping all the time and losing weight. One day, his coach sent the then-14-year-old home from practice when he felt especially terrible.
“I told my dad I wasn’t feeling well and went upstairs,” remembers Carter. “I tried to lay down, but I started throwing up a lot, so my dad took me to the hospital.”
When they arrived, the staff measured Carter’s blood sugar. It was off the charts at 740. “If I didn’t get into the hospital that day, I might not have made it,” he says. “That day was life-changing for me.”
To get cutting-edge diabetes news, strategies for blood glucose management, nutrition tips, healthy recipes, and more delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our free newsletters!
Carter’s diabetes diagnosis
Carter received a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. The hospital staff taught him how to inject himself with insulin using a syringe in his arm or stomach. He began using two types of insulin and went on a new diet. “I was on a strict carb intake at first. I couldn’t deviate from the amount of carbs I ate for any meal,” he says.
It took time for the dietary adjustments and insulin to do their job. Carter lost an alarming amount of weight, going from 115 pounds to 72 pounds before he finally started regaining muscle. For a kid who wanted to make the high school football team, the diagnosis seemed devastating, not just because he couldn’t play football while he recovered but also because Carter was unsure what having diabetes meant for his long-term dream of playing in college and the National Football League (NFL).
There’s a happy ending to his story. With the support of his family, Carter rebounded. He became stronger, and his blood sugar leveled out. Today, he’s a wide receiver playing in the NFL. He recently signed with the Los Angeles Chargers following stints with the Philadelphia Eagles, Houston Texans, Chicago Bears, and Washington Football Team (now the Washington Commanders).
Hard work has been a hallmark of Carter’s career. He was an undrafted free agent coming out of Sacramento State, where he was an All-American wide receiver and finalist for the Walter Payton Award, given to the nation’s top collegiate offensive player.
Despite his college success, Carter had to prove to pro scouts that he could handle the physical demands of the game’s highest level, and not because of the diabetes — he stands 5-foot-8, about 4 inches shorter than the average NFL receiver. Carter played on practice squads for several teams before making the Eagles’ roster in 2018, and he’s since become known as a punt and kick return specialist. In 2019, he ranked among the league’s top 10 punt returners.
Getting better after diagnosis
At this point, diabetes has become a just another part of Carter’s life, something he manages daily but that no longer requires his full-time focus. That wasn’t the case when he was first diagnosed. Then, he concentrated on getting better so he could rejoin the football team, and it felt like a full-time job.
“I didn’t even know what type 1 diabetes was before I was diagnosed, but type 2 runs in my family a bit. My mom has it and both my sisters. My grandmother on my father’s side has it. But that’s all type 2, so I didn’t know about insulin shots. My family could just control their diabetes with diet and exercise,” Carter says.
His diagnosis demanded more. He stayed out of commission post-diagnosis for about a week, and he missed the majority of his freshman high school football season. Even weeks later, he still felt like falling asleep in class and didn’t have all his energy back. “I finally started to get my weight back up and my blood sugar regulated. I ended up playing a couple of games that season,” Carter remembers.
But he struggled in other ways, too, beyond the physical aspect of the condition. “It’s hard trying to navigate through managing a disease like that when most of your peers don’t have it. It made me feel like kind of an outcast,” he says. Carter tried to hide the condition from his friends at first so that he wouldn’t have to feel different. “I wasn’t comfortable checking my blood sugar in front of my friends or at the locker room at school,” he says.
Something as seemingly everyday as attending a birthday party, where he couldn’t enjoy cake with his friends, left him feeling down. “It sounds simple, but when you’re a teen, and you’re told you can’t have a cupcake, it’s hard,” Carter says.
When he looks back on those years, he wishes he had handled things differently. “I encourage kids to reach out and talk to someone if they’re having trouble like that,” he says. “Remember, you’re not less than anybody else because you have diabetes.” Carter had the opportunity to deliver that message firsthand to high schoolers when he worked as a substitute teacher in California while trying to make an NFL squad.
Maintaining his health
How does Carter live with diabetes as a top-tier athlete? He continues to use insulin injections, even with the availability of pumps (“it’s a control thing for me,” he says). He checks his blood sugar before games, at halftime, and after games. “It used to be every quarter, but it’s every other quarter now. It’s pretty fluid; I haven’t had any complications while I’ve been playing,” he says.
Diet is important for any NFL player, but for Carter, it’s even more of a focus. “I’m very obviously cognizant of my carb and sugar intakes. If I do consume carbs, I make them more complex carbs, not soda and candy but more fruits and vegetables, rice. I go heavy on vegetables, chicken, and fish, and I take different vitamin supplements to stay as healthy as possible,” he says. “That’s not directly correlated to diabetes, but I think keeping up my overall health helps me with my diabetes.”
Carter has come a long way from that terrible day when he got sick after practice and received the diagnosis that changed his life. He wants kids who have diabetes to know that their dreams remain within their reach no matter what. “As long as you manage and take care of it in the correct way, it won’t stop you from being anything you want to be, whether that’s an athlete, a doctor, a scientist, a teacher. Whatever it is, you can do it,” he says.
Want to learn how other famous athletes manage their sport and living with diabetes? Read our interviews with cyclist Joe Eldridge, triathlete David Weingard, retired NFL defensive tackle Mike Golic, and more.