Cater’s career covered Shepherd in football glory
Monte Cater came to coach football at Shepherd in 1987. After his fourth unbeaten regular season in the past five years, he retired in late January after guiding the nationally prominent Rams to 245 wins in his upwardly mobile career.
Shepherd just kept getting better and better. The Rams left the NAIA ranks, joined Division II of the NCAA, built a 5,000-seat stadium that now has an artificial turf surface, dresses its athletes in a quietly comfortable fieldhouse and took its place alongside the country’s annual football powers.
In the last eight seasons alone, Cater’s Rams had an attention-getting 84-13 overall record.
To show the starry heights Shepherd football reached, when the Rams went 8-2 in 2014, it was a bit of a disappointment to some people.
The 245 wins Cater manufactured at Shepherd, coupled with the victories he achieved at Lakeland College in Wisconsin, made him the winningest active coach in America at all college levels when he announced his retirement before a standing room only crowd that jostled into a campus building.
Those wins didn’t see Cater visit any nearby music stores to buy a trumpet. His low-key demeanor and willingness to give credit to everybody involved in Shepherd’s success meant he never moved toward the limelight. If anyone used glowing terms or wrote adjective-laden stories concerning Shepherd football or Cater, his reserved manner and ways of deflecting praise never changed.
Under Cater’s winning ways, Shepherd did its talking on the field and on the scoreboard.
Before the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference disintegrated, Cater’s Rams had won 12 championships. When the Mountain East Conference took the place of WVIAC, Shepherd won four of the five league titles available and ran off to a 48-2 record against conference foes.
There are enough numbers swirling around Cater and his goal-achieving Rams to satisfy any mathematician.
Start with his nine different seasons with at least 10 wins. Continue on to the six unbeaten regular seasons. It would take three hands to count the playoff appearances. His highest achievement might be Shepherd’s presence in the 2015 national championship game in Kansas City. In 2016, there was still another unbeaten regular season and a list of postseason games won on the road before falling at home to North Alabama in the national semifinals.
Crowds swelled to overflowing at raucous Ram Stadium. Even with visiting teams regularly coming from four or five hours away and playoff teams dropping in from Michigan or Alabama, attendance would often be in excess of the 5,000 that the stadium was reported to hold.
On a dank December afternoon in 2015, when redoubtable Grand Valley State came for a national semifinal game, the crowd was conservatively listed at 7,000 people. Only when it had rained all morning or was uncommonly cold did the attendance figures fall below the stadium capacity – and that was because the visitors were coming from four-plus hours away and lugging a losing record with them, so their faithful were few in number.
Even as a Division II school, the Rams under Cater had players join the NFL. James Rooths, Howard Jones, Dominique Jones, Billy Brown and punter/placekicker Ricky Schmitt were all affiliated with NFL teams.
All-America type players became commonplace in Shepherdstown. Several Rams were top five finishers in voting for the Harlon Hill Award, emblematic of the best player in the NCAA Division II ranks.
Shepherd won the Lambert Trophy, indicative of the best team in the East.
Cater was honored with multiple Coach of the Year awards throughout his career, and his name and team meant more than just a little trouble for opponents.
The Shepherd Athletic Hall of Fame will be broadened considerably in number before all those deserved members of Cater’s teams have finally been inducted.
Even with all the outside accolades and awards coming Cater’s and Shepherd’s way, there was still no attention-grabbing coming from the coach, who remained quiet and in the shadows for the most part as the team went about its business, winning all its conference games.
Cater always respected his opponents. Maybe that’s why his teams rarely went through an unemotional gameday or performed in a lowly fashion against anybody.
Those 31 seasons of Cater’s unequaled leadership have seen Shepherd football rise to heights unseen – or not even imagined – at other schools. And the team attained those snow-capped heights with reserved dignity and integrity.
There were no trumpets sold to the athletic department at Shepherd College/University.
Coach Monte Cater could have the musical talent of trumpeters Louie Armstrong, Al Hirt, Dizzy Gillespie or Herb Alpert and you still would have never heard him.
There was no chest-thumping or his own trumpet playing ever associated with Coach Monte Cater.