One way to identify La Salle College High School linebacker Abdul Carter in last Friday night’s imposing victory over Downingtown East was to look for No. 22.

Another way was to look for No. 11.

The best way was to look for the guy who kept making big plays to keep the Cougars out of the end zone.

“Everywhere,” Downingtown East coach Mike Matta said of Carter’s impact on La Salle’s 27-7 victory in a clash of two of Southeastern Pennsylvania’s top Class 6A teams in Kottmeyer Stadium.

It was a team effort on the defensive side as La Salle improved to 3-0 in advance of Saturday night’s showdown with archrival and two-time reigning PIAA Class 6A state champion St. Joseph’s Prep at Cardinal O’Hara.

La Salle High linebacker Abdul Carter made two big hits on a key goal-line stop against Downingtown East.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
La Salle High linebacker Abdul Carter made two big hits on a key goal-line stop against Downingtown East.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Carter, a junior who is regarded as one of the state’s top recruits in the class of 2022, started the game wearing his favorite jersey number, 22.

“I’ve been wearing that number since I was 8 years old,” Carter said.

By the middle of the second quarter, Carter was wearing No. 11, since his original jersey was torn to pieces in the hurly-burly of the action.

“They were holding me, ripping my whole jersey,” Carter said without a hint of complaint. “They ripped it in half. I had to switch to No. 11, but it’s one of my favorite numbers so I’m good with it.”

As No. 22, Carter made a thunderous hit early in the second quarter on a third-and-9 from the La Salle 10. That was part of a defensive stand that ended when Darold Dengohe’s pressure forced an errant throw on fourth down.

As No. 11, Carter made an even bigger hit later in the second quarter, forcing a fumble at the goal line that La Salle linebacker Christopher Thompson recovered in the end zone.

“I’m not sure we’ve ever played a more physical team,” said Matta, whose Downingtown East team projects as one of the top squads in the Ches-Mont League and District 1 during this pandemic-shortened season.

The instinctive, athletic Carter was in the center of most of the action, ranging from sideline to sideline, providing sturdy support against Downingtown East’s powerful running game and deftly dropping into coverage as well.

“He’s an incredible athlete, and every week he gets better at playing linebacker,” La Salle coach John Steinmetz said. “The sky is the limit for him.”

Carter, who lives in West Philadelphia, played youth football for the Max Myers Panthers, North Philly Aztecs, and Fairhill Owls. He was a running back and safety, but switched to linebacker at La Salle.

Carter has more than a dozen scholarship offers from programs such as Penn State, Michigan, Mississippi, and Southern California. He’s a fan of the Trojans but said he’s not close to making a decision, since restrictions created by the coronavirus outbreak have limited his ability to visit schools.

Carter knows the highlight of any La Salle season usually is the Philadelphia Catholic League battle with St. Joseph’s Prep. This year, the game has added significance since the 1-0 Hawks and the Explorers are ranked No. 1 and No. 5, respectively, in High School Football America’s Pennsylvania Top 25.

In addition, Saturday night’s winner will have the inside track on the District 12 Class 6A berth in the state semifinals, although Archbishop Wood likely will have a say in that matter as well.

“It’s a big opportunity for us,” Steinmetz said.

For Carter and the rest of the La Salle defense, the challenge is clear: containing a Prep offense that features quarterback Kyle McCord, an Ohio State recruit, as well as playmakers such as Marvin Harrison Jr., another Ohio State recruit; Malik Cooper, a Temple recruit; and Sahmir Hagans, a Duke recruit.

“I love challenges,” Carter said. “I’m one of the most competitive people, I think, in the world.”

Carter said he enrolled at La Salle in part to help the Explorers reach another level — and play his part in one of the area’s richest rivalries.

“I wanted to join a school that I thought had a chance to win a state championship," Carter said. "I didn’t want to join a giant. I wanted to beat the giant, like St. Joe’s Prep.”