FOXBORO, Mass. — When Keyarrie Hudson, the 20-year-old sister of Patriots defensive end Markell Carter, goes to sleep at night, she doesn't know if she'll be able to wake up and move around the next morning.
When Carter wakes up, he makes sure to brush aside his aches and pains while drawing on his baby sister for inspiration. The two have been close forever, and Carter has always wanted to make it big to support her. In the past year, that desire has been taken to the next level.
Hudson was diagnosed with lupus in October 2010, while Carter was in the middle of his senior season at Central Arkansas, and she has battled the perils of the illness ever since. It's an autoimmune disease that attacks the body's healthy cells, affects the kidneys, causes pain in the joints and damages the skin.
"There are days when she can't really get out of bed," Carter said. "It just depends on the day and things like that. She can't really move around all day like she used to do. She's still young. She's only 20, so she should be able to move around and walk around all day, but she can't.
"She's my inspiration, man, for sure."
Hudson contracted the disease due to a reaction she had to a prescription medicine while she was attending Oklahoma State, and she had to move home to get assistance from their parents. She also makes one or two doctor visits each month, and she has her own dermatologist. Starting in January, she'll begin seeing a doctor in Boston, so she'll be making trips north from Oklahoma.
Yet, Carter said she never complains and makes the most out of her situation. That positive attitude has surely rubbed off on her big brother.
"That's a physically crippling disease," Carter said. "Every day, she wakes up tackling that with a full head of force, not complaining, not trying to blame it on anybody else. She's taking her lot in life and doing the best that she can with it.
"Her major struggles make me realize my struggles are so minor in the grand aspect of things, so just watching how she is still taking charge of life even though she has one of these crippling diseases. That's how she has motivated me."
Carter, a sixth-round draft pick, has spent his rookie season on the Patriots' practice squad. Even though he hasn't had the opportunity to get on the game field, the team clearly respects his work behind the scenes. Carter has been one of the Patriots' practice players of the week several times, and he recently received a pay raise as something of a symbol of gratitude for his work ethic.
Carter, who was lauded for his high motor and pass-rushing ability at Central Arkansas, has had to adjust from playing at a smaller collegiate program to life in the NFL. He's worked to build up his strength, add some moves to his arsenal to improve his ability to fight off blockers, and he has been diligent in learning the roles of everyone else on defense.
As for the strength and pass-rush moves, Carter knew he could be successful in college with one or two great moves, but he quickly learned that wouldn't fly in the NFL, where the intensive film study makes it impossible to get by with a small collection of ways to beat an offensive lineman.
And Carter has used his extra time to study the whole defensive playbook so he can understand what all 11 players are trying to accomplish on a given play, not just his own responsibilities.
"You want to become the best that you can," Carter said. "The whole football IQ part, that's a huge role. Football IQ is just as important as being able to rush the passer. You can have all of the ability in the world, but if you don't really understand the defense as a whole, you're going to lack a little bit. You might still be able to be effective and stuff like that knowing your role and your role only, but I feel like the more you know, you'll be better as a person. You'll be more confident in what you're doing. You'll be able to play fast. You'll be able to move around without even thinking. Knowing the whole defense is a huge, huge difference and a huge gain."
The 6-foot-4, 255-pounder has taken advantage of another opportunity, too. A sizeable portion of the reason why he's been relegated to the practice squad has to do with the players ahead of him on the depth chart. But Carter has made sure to use that to his advantage, even saying, "I think I fell upon the best situation as any defensive end drafted in the 2011 class."
Carter has soaked up information from veterans like Andre Carter, Mark Anderson, Shaun Ellis and Vince Wilfork, and Carter said Kyle Love has been a huge asset, too. That combination has been great for him because he can be a sponge while learning from a host of proven veterans, but Carter also has a group of younger players who know how to relate with him.
When thinking back, Carter said some of the best information he got was from Love, who told him before the preseason finale to leave everything he had on the field because it might have been his last chance to prove he deserved to be in the league, either on an active roster or a practice squad.
Carter took it to heart and followed through on Love's advice, and he finished with a preseason-best two tackles. Two days later, though, Carter was released with the message that he'd be back on the practice squad if no one else claimed him off waivers, which is how it turned out.
"Obviously, you don't want to get cut," Carter said. "But me as a person, I'm going to try to take the positive out of every situation that I'm in. so I just felt like that's the process that I have to go through. I'm not going to think negatively of it. I'm still in this great situation that guys would kill for, so I'm going to work hard every like I've been doing, like it's gotten me to this point, so I'm going to keep working hard and willing to learn."
And that attitude, right there, is where Hudson comes into play in Carter's life. He sat at his locker Monday after an afternoon's worth of meetings, shared some stories about Keyarrie and smiled before saying, "It's always been me and my little sister."