Raheim Jeter realized a dream come true October 22nd when he accepted a scholarship offer to play major college football at East Carolina.
“I can remember me and my brother getting up early in the morning to watch the (ESPN) SportsCenter Top 10 (plays), or when the polls were released every week,” the Spartanburg, SC, quarterback said. “College football at the Division I level has always been a dream of mine since I was a little kid.”
But Jeter’s dream was nearly shattered last February 18 in the blink of an eye.
While driving around the town of Boiling Springs about 9:30 p.m., Jeter was shot in the left leg in what local law enforcement labeled a “road rage incident.” The bullet narrowly missed major nerves and arteries that could have effectively ended Jeter’s football career. Surgery was needed to remove the bullet and required a lengthy rehabilitation for the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder from Spartanburg High School. The case against the shooter, Armad Rashad Ali Irby, is still pending.
The situation not only threatened Jeter’s career, but caused concern throughout the Spartanburg High community.
“I can’t put into words the dynamics of it,” Spartanburg head coach Mark Hodge said. “There is still so much that can’t be spoken of because it’s still in the courts. But there for a while we kind of shut our program down because nobody knew what was going on. Was he a target? Was it our players or our school? Those are things we were trying to figure out.”
Jeter had been one of South Carolina’s top players as a junior, passing for 2,979 yards and 27 touchdowns while leading Spartanburg to the regional title and a berth in the state Class AAAAA upper state championship game. He had already been offered scholarships by major college powers such as Auburn and Georgia, along with South Carolina, Kentucky and Temple before making a verbal commitment to West Virginia in December 2021.
But Jeter’s desire to play for the Mountaineers began to change in late January when the offensive coordinator he committed to play for was replaced. He remained part of the West Virginia recruiting class through the summer, and in the meantime received an offer from East Carolina.
“They (ECU) actually jumped in while I was committed (to West Virginia),” Jeter said. “Coach (Donnie) Kirkpatrick (ECU offensive coordinator) came down to my school during springtime and that’s when we met. From that point forward he recruited me.
“I already knew a good bit about East Carolina because I’m friends with (ECU running back) Rahjai Harris and (ECU quarterback) Mason Garcia.”
But before returning his focus to recruiting, Jeter faced some significant physical and mental challenges in recovering from the shooting.
“He had to go through surgery, and he had to be taught what he can say and can’t say,” Hodge said. “He actually went through some practice interviews where people tried to catch him off script just to protect him with comments and quotes he may give because this thing still has to go to court.
“The thing is, he’s totally innocent. He had nothing to do with the situation. It was just an unfortunate situation. But a 17-year-old shouldn’t have to deal with all this stuff, you know — deal with the fears and not knowing why is somebody trying to hard me? Is my body going to recover? The doctors said it (bullet) was about a quarter inch from doing major nerve and artery damage in his leg. So, it was a difficult three months. But he’s just a phenomenal young man and handled it beautifully.”
It was a relief, too, for Hodge, who came to Spartanburg as head coach just before Jeter transferred in as a sophomore from Greer High School.
Jeter had been the starting quarterback at Greer for most of his freshman season, completing 69 of 152 passes for 734 yards and five touchdowns in seven games. But his family moved after the school year to the Spartanburg district and into a competition for the starting quarterback job with senior Seth Smith.
“You see him, and you think he’s 18 years old when he was just 14 or 15, so he was kind of raw to begin with,” Hodge said. “Just watching his development over the next six months or a year was really exponential from pocket presence to changing his release point a little bit to his footwork and understanding of coverages and protections. It was really cool to watch his transformation while reminding ourselves that he was still a baby.”
Jeter eventually won the starting job and finished his sophomore year with 80 pass completions in 135 attempts for 1,110 yards and eight touchdowns. He also rushed 50 times for another 341 yards and six scores.
Then came last season when Jeter sparked Spartanburg to seven straight wins before a 56-41 loss against Gaffney in the state finals.
After recovering from his injury last summer, Jeter took an unofficial visit to East Carolina. Three days later he backed off his pledge to West Virginia and began a serious courtship with the Pirates. He took an official visit to Greenville on Oct. 14 and witnessed ECU’s dramatic 47-45 four-overtime victory against Memphis. He gave his commitment to the Pirates in the locker room after the game.
“I kind of knew it all along after I got the offer,” Jeter said. “When I met Coach Kirkpatrick in the spring there was an instant connection. Then me and (head) Coach (Mike) Houston, (running backs) coach (Chris) Foster and the rest of the staff clicked on all cylinders.”
Jeter has continued to build on his success as a senior. He led Spartanburg to a 6-4 overall regular season record while passing for 1,859 yards and 22 touchdowns. The performance has earned him a spot on South Carolina’s Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas all-star roster and he’s a finalist for South Carolina’s Mr. Football honor recognizing the best player in the state.
Spartanburg begins postseason play Friday against Nation Ford.
Jeter will play that game, and every one for the rest of his career with a new appreciation after what he’s been through the past year.
“It’s made football and life in general mean the world to me because it could have been gone in a split second,” he said. “I don’t take anything for granted now. Thankfully, God pulled me through that.”
After hopefully leading Spartanburg to a state championship, Jeter plans to graduate from high school in December and enroll at ECU in January. He plans to compete with Garcia, Ryan Stubblefield and Alex Flinn to replace Holton Ahlers as the starting quarterback.
“I’m a competitor,” he said. “I’m going to go in and work for the job no matter where it is or who is in front of me.”