EAST CHICAGO — Joy and excitement and hope were emotions felt on many high school football fields in Indiana on Monday, the first official day of practice on the IHSAA schedule.

But there was a different mood at East Chicago's Pete Rucinski Field.

Before the first weight was lifted or the first whistle was blown, Cardinals coach Jay Novak and his staff had a 45-minute meeting with the current players. Tears were shed and moans could be heard.

Most all of the team was thinking of former Cardinals player Martayveus Carter, who was shot Saturday night at a gas station in East Chicago. Hammond's Brian Thomas was killed in the shooting.

The 23-year-old Carter was listed in critical condition Sunday at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn but as of Monday was no longer listed as a patient at the hospital.

Novak, who coached Carter for two years as an assistant, was working a stand with 15 of his players at Pierogi Fest in Whiting when he got the call about Carter. After being named The Times Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, Carter graduated in 2014 and enjoyed an All-American career at Grand Valley State, a Division II program.

"When I heard about what happened it ripped my heart out," Novak said with tears in his eyes. "He was a great football player, one of the best East Chicago's ever had. But he had a kind heart, too.

"I saw it all the time. If he saw someone who was handicapped or an elderly person who needed a hand, he would be one of the first ones to help them. He went through some tough things but he had a great heart."

Novak took over the Clark program in 2012 and his Pioneers played East Chicago. He set up a double screen that took the ball away from Carter's side of the field. It worked and the Pioneers receiver grabbed the ball and took off into open field.

Carter caught him after 9 years and he made the tackle. Then, he turned to Novak who was a few yards away.

"I love you, coach," Carter told Novak with a big smile. "But not today."

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None of the Cardinals at Monday's practice wanted to talk about Carter. He worked out in East Chicago's weight room.

Carter declared for the NFL supplemental draft and had worked out for the Kansas City Chiefs camp. Many NFL teams had Carter on their radar, according to Novak.

"Everyone wanted to be Marty," said 2017 East Chicago Central grad De'andre Jones, who played with Carter as a freshman. "He was outspoken, he made you want to do what you needed to to help the team. He put everyone on his back and took that team where it had never gone before."

In 2013, Carter and East Chicago Central advanced to the Class 4A semistate for the first time in school history.

Jones, who will be leaving for Trine University to play running back soon, was one of several former players who came back to talk to coaches and encourage the younger players Monday.

Carter's injury and the violence in the streets was a part of what they talked about with each other.

"A bullet ain't got no name," Jones said. "It is just so disappointing that he was this close to reaching his dream and this happens. It is so sad."

Novak summarized what he told his players at their private meeting.

He told them he was hurting really bad and he knew they were, too. He said everyone in the locker room had a relationship with Carter.

"I told them I loved them," Novak said. "I told them that I am here for them and so are all the other coaches. We are a family and we stick together. We are all praying for Marty and his family, we are holding them all up."

Novak said his program will honor Carter with a sticker on their helmets this season. He said he will allow the players to design the image and then the coaching staff will get them made and put on the helmets as soon as possible.

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Sports Reporter

Steve has won awards during two different stints at The Times. In addition to being the Prep Beat columnist, he covers football, boys basketball and boys track. He is a long-suffering Cubs fan.