One of Southern Methodist's choicest football recruits is 18-year-old Michael Carter of Dallas, a 6'2½" 255-pounder with speed. But Carter has a dilemma. He is also a shot-putter. Which is like saying that Michelangelo was also a painter. Two weeks ago Carter heaved the 12-pound shot, the one high-schoolers use, 81'3½". Since March he had broken the previous high school record of 72'3¼" five times. Now, on the last throw of his high school career, he not only beat his closest competitor by almost 17 feet but also surpassed the old record by nine feet.
That margin was so astonishing that track and field fans termed Carter's toss "Beamonesque," in reference to Bob Beamon, who bypassed 28' on the way to his superhuman 29'2½" long jump in the 1968 Olympics at Mexico City. In that same year Sam Walker, also of Dallas, set the high school record Carter shattered for the sixth, and most astonishing, time, in the Golden West Invitational at Sacramento, Calif.
However, other track nuts claim the comparison with Beamon is unfair—to Carter. Beamon's jump outdistanced the second-best leap in history by 6.6%. Carter almost doubled that margin. His toss surpassed Walker's by 12.5%.
"I'll be seven feet under before anyone throws 81 feet again," says Walker, now 28, who recently began a comeback in the shot.
So what's a football-lovin', shotputtin' sonofagun like Carter to do? Even though he is just now making the transition to the 16-pound shot, Carter is already considered one of this country's top candidates for the Moscow Olympics. His biggest hurdle is self-imposed—the time-consuming, injury-producing arena of college football. "Football is my main sport and playing professional football is my main goal," says Carter, who once described track as "a good way to fill the time between football seasons." SMU Coach Ron Meyer considers him a prize catch in a group of Mustang recruits widely recognized as among the top five in college football.
Carter's strength and 4.6 speed in the 40-yard dash make him an ideal candidate for nose guard, although he played four different positions in his senior year at Thomas Jefferson High. In one game he put that speed on display by taking an end-around 78 yards for a touchdown. In all, he was sought by more than 100 colleges, from Penn State to USC. At one time Carter had two large trash bags full of letters from recruiters. But his 14-year-old sister—he also has two younger brothers—recently mistook them for garbage and threw them out.
When Carter signed his letter of intent with SMU, it was with the understanding that he could skip football in the Olympic year to concentrate on the shot. Right now he is undecided as to what he will do, and he doesn't have to make up his mind until football practice begins Aug. 9. Already he has discovered how demanding football can be. Carter had hoped to major in architecture but, having learned how much time he would have to spend at football practice, he is considering business management instead. "In architecture school you have to do a lot of surveys and other projects on your own time," he says. "On my 'own' time I'll be on the football field."
The prospect that he might devote his athletic talents to football horrifies track fans, who have seen all too many Olympic hopefuls sidetracked by more popular and potentially more lucrative sports. Pittsburgh Steeler Quarterback Terry Bradshaw, for instance, was once the high school record holder in the javelin. That mark now belongs to New England Patriot Tight End Russ Francis.
If Carter does opt for track, he will have outstanding coaching. Last week SMU hired Ted McLaughlin as its new track and field coach. For the past five years McLaughlin was in charge of the field events at the University of Texas-El Paso, and he is considered one of this country's authorities on throwing events. His UTEP throwers contributed 30 of the 64 points that won this year's NCAA title for the Miners.
McLaughlin attributes Carter's success to his quickness. "He is lightning fast," the coach says. "You can't study his technique unless you film him and watch in slow motion. Usually you film at 18 frames per second, but with Carter that may not be enough. He's really a blur." Nevertheless, McLaughlin sees room for improvement, particularly in upper-body strength. Carter bench-presses 345 pounds. Many world-class shotputters can do 500.
Michael's father, who is the soccer coach at Thomas Jefferson, ascribes his son's success to hard work. Michael was a sprinter in grade school, but he grew so fast that by the seventh grade his knees weren't functioning properly and he had difficulty walking. He couldn't compete in athletics that year, and the following year he discovered that his condition had permanently slowed him too much for sprinting. He took up the shot and began lifting weights to transform his lean sprinter's physique into that of a weight man.
"Before Michael was old enough to drive, I'd have to go to the track to pick him up," his father says. "I'd sit and sit and sit while he kept working out. I always let him go until he got tired." Says Michael, "My dad always encouraged me but he never pushed me. I pushed myself."
At Sacramento, Carter, not usually one to display his feelings, pushed himself to such a peak that he indulged in an absolute orgy of emotion. Before the competition, meet officials had placed a small American flag 77 feet from the shotput circle to mark Carter's high school record. Carter himself had shyly requested that the officials add an extra measurement line to the landing area, 80 feet out from the circle, just in case. When he saw his final throw hit the ground beyond that line, Carter, who says his credo is "Don't brag," couldn't contain himself. He bounded into the landing area, grabbed the flag and waved it over his head. That evoked a standing ovation. Then he regained his composure and, when officials suggested he take a victory lap around the track, Carter politely declined. "I told them I couldn't run that far," he said later, permitting himself one more grin.
Back home in Dallas, his parents opened the Dallas Times Herald the next morning and saw a picture of Michael grinning from ear to ear. "Michael is smiling," said an amazed Faye Carter to her husband Douglas. "He must have done well."
That weekend, 400 miles to the south, America's top-ranked shotputters were gathered in Walnut, Calif. to compete for the national title in the AAU championships. Word of the new high school record reached them just before Sunday's final and quickly replaced all other topics of conversation. UCLA's Dave Laut won the AAU title with a throw of 69'3¾", a personal best. It was the high point of Laut's career, but afterward he was still shaking his head over Carter's accomplishment. Turning to Walker, who frequently trains with Carter in Dallas, Laut muttered disconsolately, "I couldn't throw a 12-pound shot 81 feet."
When college coaches recruit high school shotputters, they usually subtract 10 feet from the athlete's best throw with a 12-pound shot to gauge his potential with a 16-pounder. Using that conversion factor, Carter could be considered the seventh-best shotputter ever and the fifth-best in U.S. history. A 71-foot put would have won both the NCAA and AAU titles this year. In actuality, Carter has yet to come close to 70 feet with the 16-pound shot. To date his best throw is 66'4", and he successfully defended his national title last weekend at the AAU Junior Championships in Bloomington, Ind. with a 64'6½".
Carter's prodigious throwing is already the stuff of legend. Consider his feats at an all-comers meet in Abilene. Texas on May 5. On that day he competed in four events—the high school and international shot and discus. In the process he set two national prep records, surpassed a third while warming up and was within two inches of a fourth. The high school marks came in the shot competitions. He threw 77' with the 12-pound ball and his 66'4" mark with a 16-pounder. One of his practice throws with the high school discus (which weighs about 10 ounces less than the international implement) sailed 215', 5'6" farther than Dave Porath's high school mark of 209'6" set in 1978. In the international discus Carter fell two inches short of Ray Burton's high school record of 177'4" set in 1974. He might have been able to break Burton's record, but that competition took place at the same time as the high school shot, and Carter was scurrying back and forth from one ring to the other to get in all his throws in both events. Not a bad day's work.
Carter took up the discus in the 10th grade, two years after he started with the shot, because he says, "I was told they go together." Understandably, his discus form is less than perfect. Some observers call it horrible. But the discus is not an event won on style points, and in Carter's final two years in high school, where he was a B-plus student, he lost just two discus competitions.
However, there is one point about Carter's style that could be a problem. When he throws, he likes to tape the index and ring fingers of his throwing hand for a better grip, a habit he got into after spraining his hand last year. But that kind of wrap isn't allowed in international competition. Even now, Carter creates problems for meet officials. At the Atlanta Classic meet in June, the landing area was bordered by a fence 74 feet from the shotput circle. Carter's coach, James Neeley, suggested that the landing area be laid out differently to give Carter more room. The officials thought he was pulling some sort of Texas-sized joke. They stopped laughing when Carter's first warmup throw ripped a hole in the fence.
Shotput fallout could also prove a problem at Southern Methodist. The landing area at the Morrison-Bell field is composed of crushed red gravel and extends from 72 to 75 feet from the throwing circle. When Carter works out there he routinely heaves the 12-pound shot into the grass beyond.
In short, as one track man put it, "When you're dealing with Carter, you're dealing with a national treasure." Only time will tell whether football will leave the treasure intact.