COSTA MESA, Calif. -- When Keenan Allen left the Los Angeles Chargers' season opener with a hamstring injury in the second quarter, quarterback Justin Herbert lost the most productive passing-game partner of his career, with the pair having collaborated on 206 completions since 2020.
In Allen's absence, a player stepped up who was decidedly less established -- but driven to fulfill a promise.
A 29-year-old journeyman, DeAndre Carter was averaging just over 11 receiving yards per game entering 2022. In Sunday's 24-19 win over the Las Vegas Raiders, Carter logged three catches for 64 yards, including a 23-yard scoring grab that gave Los Angeles a 17-3 lead at the half. He paced the team in yards per catch (21.3) and was second only to Allen in total receiving yards.
"It definitely feels good being able to contribute to the team, contribute to a win," Carter said on Tuesday. "Being able to produce and make plays and stuff like that is good. I feel like I'm coming through on my promise to him and making my family proud."
The him Carter is referring to is his younger brother, Kaylan, who died in 2013 after going into cardiac arrest during a weight training session with his football team in high school.
Kaylan had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (a disease associated with an enlarged heart), and he spent two months in a coma at the hospital before he died.
"It's difficult," Carter said. "Hardest thing I've ever been through in my life. It's difficult. We were real close. I felt like I lost my best friend, and I didn't know where to go next. I threw myself into football and school, trying to keep my mind off of it."
During the time Kaylan was in a coma, DeAndre Carter was in fall camp as a junior at Sacramento State. He went to visit his younger brother in the hospital, knowing it might be the last time he ever saw him.
"I made him a promise that I was going to make it in this league for the both of us," Carter said, "It was both of our dreams. I told him I was going to do everything that he wanted to that he never got the opportunity to do. That's what got me up every day after being cut so many times. Being out of the league for a whole year (in 2016), that's what got me up in the morning and kept me going."
The Chargers are Carter's ninth NFL team. After going undrafted in 2015, he spent time on various practice squads before making it on to a 53-man roster with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2018.
Less than two months later, he was cut.
"You kind of just have to stay with it, trust the process," Carter said. "Trust God, trust the process. Your opportunity is going to come, and when it comes, make the most of it, take advantage of it. It's tough, mentally, not getting the opportunity, but everything happens when it's supposed to."
That opportunity is presenting itself once again for Carter this season with the Chargers. The team signed him to a one-year deal back in April, mainly so that he could serve as a returner, head coach Brandon Staley said Tuesday. However, Staley said, the team quickly saw he could bring a lot more to the table than that.
"He's a coach's dream," Staley said. "That is kind of how DeAndre is. He is such a hard worker. He's so unselfish. He does so many different things from a role standpoint. I think he works extremely hard no matter what he's doing throughout the day, whether it's in a meeting, in a lift, out at the walk-through, out at practice."
Allen has missed just three games in the past five seasons, but he's already been ruled out of Thursday night's highly anticipated AFC West bout between the Chargers and Chiefs on Prime Video. Which means Carter will be asked to step up once more.
And he'll be carrying the memory of his brother with him. Carter writes "KC5" somewhere on his cleats every week, to honor his brother, who wore jersey No. 5. Any time he scores, he hits his chest twice and points up to the sky as a signal to his brother.
No matter how many times he gets cut, Carter said, he can't give up, because this dream isn't just his anymore.
"I told him on his death bed that I would make it for us," Carter said. "I made him that promise, and that's why I'm still here."
Follow Bridget Condon on Twitter.
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