The trampoline was setup on the right side of the stone patio as you walked out onto Cameron Carter-Vickers’ backyard. The portable basketball hoop was rolled out from behind the small shed on the opposite end and raised to its highest position.
“It was probably quite dangerous,” MNT defender Carter-Vickers playfully admits, recalling his youth days. “But, we’d set the basketball hoop up quite away from the trampoline, and then I’d be jumping off the trampoline trying to dunk and land on the floor somewhere.”
It’s a scene that can be envisioned in suburban cities across the United States.
Beyond the patio was a deep rectangular grass yard, bordered by a wooden fence on one side and a privacy hedge on the other. Of course, a nice-sized space like this also provided plenty of room to kick the ball around – his favorite activity – or to jump hurdles, a nod to his mom’s track and field affinity.
And while basketball was not too popular among his neighborhood friends, it had a special place in Cameron’s life: it was the sport his American father played throughout a 15-year professional career.
4,500 MILES APART
A collegiate star at LSU, Howard Carter played for the Tigers in the 1981 NCAA Final Four and went on to play two seasons in the NBA with the Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks before having a decade-long career in France’s top basketball league. While there, he also became a citizen and represented France internationally. He played his final three years in Greece and it was there that he met Geraldine Vickers, who was working for a British travel agency at the time.
(Photo Courtesy: LSU Athletics)
“We fell in love and we had Cameron,” explained Howard. “She wanted to raise Cameron in England – she didn't want to stay in Greece, and I was still playing at the time. I would go to England whenever I had free time to see them.”
Howard and Geraldine didn’t stay together as a couple, but they remained good friends. Even though Cameron grew up in Southend, his dad was never too far away despite living more than 4,500 miles away in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
At least once a year, either his mom would take Cameron to visit his dad, or Howard would fly to England to spend time with them. Trips would last anywhere from two-to-five weeks at a time. Regular phone conversations filled the gaps in between.
“It was about having that good relationship with his dad and his family over there and maintaining it, because obviously it’s a long way away,” Geraldine explains.
An active kid who ‘couldn’t sit still,’ Cameron always had a soccer ball with him. But he also played – and excelled in – other sports as a kid: track, shot-put, swimming, rugby, and even leading his team to the Essex County Cup basketball championship, scoring 32 of the 64 points.
“As a kid I used to go back to America in the summer time. I've got loads of family there – tons of cousins and aunties and uncles,” Cameron said. “We’d always play basketball – I’d play with my dad and my uncle and cousins, always playing games on the local court.”
For the most part, he played those ‘other’ sports competitively once he reached Eastwood Academy, his secondary school. But for him, these were more activities to be around his friends. He had discovered his passion early on.
“Over here, soccer’s the number one sport,” he said. “So from a young age, everyone's playing. That’s what you play every day at lunch in school, kicking the football around. After school, you go to parks or might just be dribbling a football back from school, or you and your mates might be kicking it down the road walking home.”
He was six years old when he joined a Sunday League team, and 10 when a Tottenham scout invited him to a weekly regional training camp in Southend. The camp – at least for him – then shifted to Tottenham’s facility for a few months. He was then selected to attend a trial from which he was invited to join the Tottenham Academy.
“It was always his number one thing. Even when he was playing basketball and doing athletics, football was what he always wanted to do,” his mom said. “But even though I knew he always wanted to do football, I think he actually opened to it at about 14, that’s when he said, “yeah, I want to be a professional footballer.” That was the first time I think I heard him really say it out loud.”
Four years later in September 2016, he made his professional debut for Tottenham as an 18-year-old.
A BIG KID
Cameron has always been a big kid. Maybe not in height, but definitely in mass.
Still only 20 years old, Tottenham lists his weight as 92 kilos (202 pounds) and height at 1.83 meters (six feet).
“Everybody in my family is big,” said Howard. “As a matter of fact, most of my family members - my dad and my uncles - played American football. So when I chose basketball, everyone thought I should have played football because I was always a big body. I think he gets that size from my side of the family.”
Like his dad, Cameron’s calling was not in American football. But that doesn't mean he hasn’t heard the chatter.
“They joke about it,” he said of his MNT teammates. “Calling me a linebacker and saying I should be in the NFL, stuff like that.”
When Cameron went with Tottenham’s U-17 team to play a tournament in Florida, his family drove over to watch him.
“I took my brother-in-law with me. He's a high school football coach,” Howard recalls. “He had seen (Cameron) as a little kid, but when he saw him as a 16-year-old athlete running up and down the soccer field, he was like, “I’d love to have him as my strong safety on my football team.”
Has Cameron ever wondered ‘what if?’
“A little bit, yea,” he said. “Obviously I see American football on TV, and it looks fun. I would’ve liked to try it and see how I was.”
Here’s an example of his strength. Or, perhaps, not knowing his own strength.
As a kid he always convinced either his mom or grandma to play soccer with him in their back yard. Often times, they’d throw a ball his way and he’d try to hit one-timers, or headers. There are plenty of stories, but none like the time he injured his grandma.
“My nan is quite lively, she goes for walks and she likes to be active,” Cameron tells. “When I was 10, we were playing football in the backyard and she was in goal, and I was shooting at her. I kept scoring, so I said ‘come on, Nan, try to stop it.’ So the next shot I took she really tried to save it. So she struck out her arm, and the ball just hit her in the arm and she broke her wrist.”
"I don't think he realized what he'd done and he just carried on," Geraldine laughingly said as she recalled her mother's injury. "She's just sitting there with her arm on the cushion and I come in and ask 'what's going on?'"
PLAYING HIMSELF ONTO THE MNT
Going into the 2017-2018 Premier League campaign, Cameron had made four first-team appearances for Tottenham. So when his coach, Mauricio Pochettino, arranged for the then 19-year center back to get consistent minutes on loan with Championship side Sheffield United, Cameron jumped at the chance.
“When you’re kind of stuck at the same stage for a while, you’re itching to get to the next level and start playing games,” he said. “In the back of your head, you’re always confident that when the opportunity does come that you’ll be able to take it.”
Cameron scored the winning goal in his debut for Sheffield United at Bolton on September 12, 2017. One person in attendance was Mick McCarthy, at the time Ipswich Town FC’s manager who went to scout Bolton ahead of their upcoming meeting.
“I didn't know that much about him, and instantly I liked him” McCarthy said, snapping his fingers. “I thought he was excellent and he just stood out.”
Months later, McCarthy was looking for defenders when his staff told him that Carter-Vickers’ loan had ended and he was available.
“I said, ‘yea, in a heartbeat I’ll take him,” added McCarthy. “We were lucky we got him.”
McCarty explained that generally center backs in the league are around 6’4”, which is an advantage when defending set pieces and crosses, among other aspects of the game. Carter-Vickers checked in at around six feet even.
Cameron went on to make 17 appearances for the Blades in half a season, and another 17 appearances while on loan for McCarthy at Ipswich Town during the second half of the campaign.
“I really enjoyed it,” he said of his loan stints. “Both at Sheffield and at Ipswich. I’ve really enjoyed the games I played in, and playing week in and week out. It’s definitely very tough, physically and mentally. Sometimes mentally even more than physically.”
Consistent play plus his performances with the Youth National Teams earned Carter-Vickers his first cap with the MNT on Nov. 17, 2017, in a draw away to Portugal. He made his first start in a 1-0 win against Paraguay in March, and started both of the USA’s European friendlies this summer, memorably organizing the back line during the second half of a spirited 1-1 draw with World Cup-bound France on June 9.
LIFE OF A PRO
He has represented the U.S. in two Under-20 FIFA World Cups, in Olympic Qualifying, and now with the MNT. And he’s still young enough to play in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
In May, he signed a new contract with Tottenham that will keep him with the London-based club through 2021. It’s unknown if he’ll go on loan again, or what the future holds.
“For someone who’s gained so much already, quite clearly he’s got that inherent built-in desire, and he'll continue to do it,” McCarthy added. “You can see in how he trains and he goes about his job that he's serious about it.”
One thing is for sure. His career is on the rise, and he’s among the next crop of young American players who will be fighting for positions on the MNT for years to come.
He also has the support structure in place to help him stay focused.
“He doesn’t know much about the tactics and the techniques of football, but he knows about living a professional athlete’s life,” Cameron says of his dad. “So he gives me life tips and how he thinks I should be living.”
Despite a long pro basketball career in Europe, Howard admits he made mistakes and wants to help Cameron avoid the same pitfalls.
“My career didn't go as it should have because of my off-the-court lifestyle. I liked to party a lot,” Howard says. “I feel like I should have had a longer NBA career if it wasn't for that. I'm honest about that today and that's what happened. I try to tell him to keep his priorities in order.”
Thanks to his parents, Cameron considers himself well grounded. He recently bought his first home – roughly 20 minutes from his mom and grandma – and visits them at least once a week, regardless of how much they talk on the phone.
As for his basketball game, there’s no more jumping off trampolines. It’s a bond he shares with his dad.
“I’ll beat him one-on-one, because he’s a bit older now and I can get around him. But in the game of H-O-R-S-E, I just can’t beat him. I can’t get him to get any letters,” Cameron concedes.
But that’s ok. Football is his game.
Sitting in a clear display case on a pedestal just inside his front door is the signed game ball given to him by the MNT the night he made his debut against Portugal.
“That's where he wants to be – at the next World Cup in four year’s time,” says Geraldine. “He wants to be there, without a doubt.”
“He told me, ‘I want to play for the U.S. Soccer team to represent you and my American family,’ Howard says. “He wanted to make us proud, and that he did. It just makes me proud that it’s his choice.”
His grandma keeps a box with all of his awards, clippings, certificates, and such. As he ruffles through it, he pulls out a random paper that he completed when he first joined the Tottenham Academy. The assignment was to write what he wanted to achieve in his career.
“It says, ‘I’d like to go to a World Cup, play in the Champions League and win the FA Cup.”
Time will tell, but it seems the 20-year-old’s goals are quite achievable.
“The spring he has is amazing. He’s fantastic in the air. He's very quick. He gets tight at people. He blocks things. He's a tough defender and he can use the ball. He’s got all the tools to be a Premier League footballer.”
- Mick McCarthy