MILLEDGEVILLE – Milledgeville sophomore tight end and two-way lineman Karter Livengood is off to a scorching start this season.
In a 48-0 Week 1 win over River Ridge, he recorded two sacks. In a 64-14 Week 2 win over Quest Charter Academy, he hauled in 45 and 32-yard touchdown receptions. In a 58-22 Week 3 win over Polo, he reeled in 59- and 45-yard touchdown receptions.
Over the past two games, he’s amassed four touchdowns and 180 yards on five catches, all of that as a sophomore with only four varsity starts. The best of him may be yet to come.
Livengood’s rise to the starting lineup began late last season. As a freshman in 2022, he made his first varsity start in the second round of the Illinois 8-Man Football Association playoffs against West Central. Milledgeville lost that game 38-14, but Livengood’s performance was a silver lining.
[Livengood] played last year in the playoff game against West Central, a freshman starting against the eventual state champs, and you couldn’t tell he was a freshman.”— Jason Wroble, Milledgeville football coach
“He played last year in the playoff game against West Central, a freshman starting against the eventual state champs, and you couldn’t tell he was a freshman,” Milledgeville coach Jason Wroble said. “He held his own against the best team in the state.”
Livengood learned a lot from his trial by fire and he’s learned a lot from the senior classes, as well – last year’s and this year’s. The experience of that first start and the presence of those mentors have been key factors in his development this season.
“I learned that it’s a big step up from JV. It’s a lot faster game, and you gotta know your blocks really good,” Livengood said. “You have to have everything down. You can’t just wing it. You have to come prepared. It was a big game last year. We came up short, but it helped that I knew what I was doing, and I had a lot of good seniors last year and the seniors this year to help me out.”
Work ethic has also been a huge part of the equation. Wroble and senior quarterback Connor Nye said you’d be hard-pressed to find someone on the team who works harder.
“I think, first and foremost, he’s one of the hardest-working kids on the field, not only in practice, but in game situations, too. He has a great mix of size and speed and strength and athleticism. He’s a kid that can do it all,” Wroble said. “If you had a team full of Karters, you’d have a really good football team. You can probably put him in the backfield and he’d be a good running back. He’s even got a strong arm; he can throw the ball a mile, too. He’s just a really good athlete, and that allows us to do a lot of different things with one player. His versatility, it’s invaluable to the team.”
As a freshman, Livengood quickly caught Wroble’s attention. By the time the playoffs rolled around last year, the head coach felt he had earned the opportunity to start.
“He worked his way in. Every day in practice he came, and he was a force in practice. He would make our varsity guys work, and we thought, ‘Hey, let’s give it a shot, have him in there,’ ” Wroble said. “We played West Central earlier in the season, and they beat us pretty good, and we made some changes on offense, some subtle changes, to play to our strengths a little bit more, and Karter fit that. We needed a position player, like a tight end we could release, and he fit that bill. So he got an opportunity and made the most of it.”
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Livengood has seen time at tight end, guard and on the defensive line this season. His versatility proved invaluable when Milledgeville’s starting center was sidelined by injury.
“Our starting center went out with a shoulder injury, and Karter had to jump in and play guard,” Nye said. “He was right where he left off last year, and it worked out amazing.”
Livengood approaches the game with a team-first mindset. Whether he’s asked to play tight end, center, guard or any other position, he’s ready, willing and able to contribute. And he can do it all at a high level.
Positional versatility is something he takes great pride in.
“I’m probably at tight end most of the time. If one of our linemen goes down, I’ll jump in at center or guard, and we have a couple plays that I’ll jump in at center,” Livengood said. “I definitely take pride in it. The whole team has to play both ways. We’re not very deep, we’re probably about the smallest team, but it’s hard work and everyone does it. Everyone’s gotta show up.”
The idea of Livengood at tight end was suggested by offensive coordinator Brad Grenoble. At first, Wroble said he was hesitant to accept the change. But after seeing how well Livengood played the position at a team camp in Iowa, he was sold.
“Coach Grenoble, he calls the offense, and he’s like, ‘Hey, I think we should play Karter at tight end,’ and I was a little hesitant. But then we went to Central [College] Camp out in Pella, Iowa – it was a team camp – and there you get to scrimmage other schools. There were seven or eight other Iowa schools there – they’ve been playing eight-man for a long time – and what sold me on it was there were several plays we ran; he was wide open every time, good backfield action, and his speed allowed him to get open. And we’re seeing the same thing now when the regular season’s here: his ability to get open and our threat in the run game will help him.
“We run a play-action pass, and the next thing you know, with his speed, he’s behind guys.”