Plain Dealing’s Keldrick Carper faithfully studies Scripture, maintains a 4.0 GPA, and wants to major in African Studies with the hopes of one day becoming a college professor.
He grew up fast in a single-parent home with older brother, Hakien, and younger brother, Kendarious, raised by their devoted mother, Tabitha. Along the way, Carper developed into one of the area’s most sought-after college football recruits and earned the title of 2016 Times Male Athlete of the Year as a junior in 2015-16.
“Most college coaches who meet him are more impressed by his character than his athletic ability,” said Carper’s basketball coach at Plain Dealing, David Bryant. “He’s a unique kid.”
Drew Brees presented Carper with the award at the Northwest Louisiana Best of Preps Banquet sponsored by Calumet, and Carper sees the Saints’ All-Pro quarterback as a role model on and off the football field. Both put a heavy emphasis on leadership, academics, and most importantly, their relationship with God.
Even with his parents divorced, Carper always stayed close to and eventually moved in with his father, Plain Dealing football assistant John Johnson. But Bryant provides another critical role in Carper’s life as a mentor and uncle-like figure.
Tabitha Carper made sure her sons went every Sunday to Egypt Hill Baptist Church, where Carper learned the importance of humility from the Book of Proverbs, one of his favorites. He frequently talks about faith with Bryant, who said he’s challenged by Carper’s mature spiritual views every day.
“We can talk about anything,” Carper said. “He’s been in the Word for a long time and he has a great understanding.”
The two study Scripture every day and Bryant even remembers a moment last fall when Carper came into his office on Friday to talk and pray before a football game. That intense focus translates to athletics, where Carper strives to help his team in any way he can.
“I feel like I’ve been a leader of my football team and basketball team since my freshman year,” Carper said. “Now I know I’m automatically the leader.
“Everything I do, someone is watching so I have to lead in the right way so I can set a proper example for the younger generation.”
On the basketball court, he averaged a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds to carry the Lions to a third-place finish in District 1-1A. Four of their five losses came against state champion Arcadia and quarterfinalist Grambling as he earned First Team All-City honors.
Carper carried the load even more on the football field, catching 66 passes for 947 yards and rushing for another 716 yards on 112 carries. He scored 22 of Plain Dealing’s 25 touchdowns, including an interception return and a kickoff return.
“Last year we leaned on him a little too much,” coach James Thurman said. “(It was) a situation when we got in a bind, everybody looked towards Keldrick.”
Of course, Carper would never complain about a lack of help from teammates or too much attention from opposing defenses, things Bryant said will only make the four-star athlete stronger at the next level. He’s hoping to shine as a tall, athletic defensive back, and Thurman said many college coaches tell Carper he can choose to play offense or defense.
Impressive speed and leaping ability made him a track and field star, too. He took second this spring a year after winning the state title in the triple jump while also finishing second in the 100 meter hurdles and third in the long jump.
All that athleticism and impressive showings at camps have made him into a can’t-miss prospect, even at a 1A school yet to get past the second round in football or basketball during his career. Nine SEC schools already offered Carper scholarships, along with Notre Dame, Miami, TCU and many others.
Tabitha said she originally wanted her son to follow her older brother’s footsteps and go to Evangel, and he said he considered transferring to a prep school after football coach Coy Brotherton left to become offensive coordinator at Captain Shreve following the 2014 season.
Thurman said multiple area schools made efforts to lure Carper away from Plain Dealing, though Carper said no coaches spoke with him about it directly. But in the end he couldn’t justify leaving Bryant, especially since other schools can’t offer any more exposure than Carper already has.
A strong, close-knit bond with family and community won’t stop him from going to school far away, something his mother fully supports if that’s what’s best for him. She knows as well as the Lions’ coaches that her well-rounded son’s lofty ambitions stretch well beyond Louisiana.
“He’s looking for a second family, I’m sure,” Tabitha said. “Somewhere where he feels secure, somewhere where he will feel beloved.”
If the relationships and admiration he inspires in his hometown are any indication, that won’t be hard to find.