Antiwaun Carter took a firsthand look at life on the other side of the tracks--supposedly the better side--and decided that he wasn’t missing much.
So he headed back to the old neighborhood, leaving Westlake Village for Pacoima where he intends to make his stand as a running back for the Kennedy High football team.
That is not the way the plan was devised. Carter was supposed to play in a dream backfield at Westlake High, joining his close friends, Brian Brison, Leonice Brown and Mukasa Crowe, who moved from their troubled neighborhood in Pacoima to live with the Buzz Holcomb family in Westlake Village. The 4 Pacoima boys grew close to the Holcombs after playing on the same youth track and football teams with Erik Holcomb.
Brison, Brown and Crowe still live with the Holcombs, who have made headlines for more than 3 months in the family’s battle with California Interscholastic Federation officials over recruiting charges and athletic eligibility requirements.
Brison, Crowe and Holcomb have entered their second month as ninth-graders at Westlake and are still waiting to play their first down of football. A Ventura County Superior Court judge will decide Friday whether the CIF can deny the boys athletic eligibility on academic grounds.
Brown, who enrolled at Crespi as a 10th-grader, made the varsity but has played sparingly as a backup to the Celts’ All-American running back, Russell White.
Meanwhile, Carter has struck a blow on the home front. The 5-9, 165-pound sophomore has helped Kennedy to a 3-1 start, rushing for 477 yards in 71 carries to lead Valley-area City Section players. Three times he has rushed for more than 100 yards in a game, with a season high of 158 against Hamilton. Only a penalty that wiped out an 80-yard scoring run against Crenshaw has prevented him from topping the 100-yard mark in each of his first 4 varsity starts.
Carter shared the enthusiasm of his friends when they first discussed the move to Westlake Village, and although he misses them, he has no regrets about his decision to return home.
“I was all for it at first,” he said. “I saw it as an opportunity to live in a different environment, but when I got there it wasn’t all that different.”
It took less than a week after Carter moved to Westlake Village at the start of the summer for him to move back in with his grandmother, Arlene Carter.
“He decided on his own what was right for him and I’m surely glad he decided to come home,” she said. “I wanted him to stay because I felt he could do the same things here in his own neighborhood.”
The Pacoima parents agreed to let their boys move and signed over legal guardianship to Buzz Holcomb, an electronics salesman, because they believed Westlake Village offered better educational opportunities and a safer environment than Pacoima. According to police accounts, the largest concentration of gang activity in the San Fernando Valley covers a 3-mile area in Pacoima.
“Those guys are my best friends and they tried to stop me from leaving, but I wanted to prove that you can do well in Pacoima,” Carter said.
Carter also was swayed by the reaction in Pacoima to the move. Many residents claimed news accounts of the boys’ move portrayed Pacoima in a negative light, prompting one group to stage a protest at an area newspaper.
“I can understand them being upset but not at us,” Carter said. “Everyone took it as we were putting Pacoima down, but we weren’t.
“Everyone thinks it’s bad out here and that just because you live around here you’re going to join a gang. But that’s not true. I’m happy here. I like Kennedy. Whenever I run into trouble I can depend on the counselors and coaches.”
Carter has dodged trouble as deftly as he avoids tacklers on the football field, making a smooth transition to high school life. Kennedy Coach Bob Francola has been as much impressed with Carter’s demeanor off the field as his ability on it.
“We can talk about physical ability but Antiwaun has a special quality,” he said. “Whatever we talk about, he focuses right in. And he’s a good student. He wears glasses off the field and is always carrying books. He does all the things that teachers like.”
Carter also has had little trouble pleasing coaches. He brings a sprinter’s speed to the backfield with personal bests of 10.8 in the 100-yard dash and 22.8 in the 220. But it was not until the Golden Cougars put on pads during two-a-day drills in August that Francola discovered his starting tailback.
“His speed was never a question but we wondered how durable he’d be,” he said. “When we ran him on a dive play and saw that he could run for the tough yards inside, we knew we had something special. We never dreamed he’d be able to pop big runs as a sophomore against good teams, but every time he gets the ball into the secondary it’s a track meet. And he doesn’t lose many of those.”
Like many good running backs, Carter wants the ball all the time, but unlike many sophomores he is not afraid to ask for it. Yet, his enthusiasm and unselfishness have made it easy for older teammates to accept him.
“He’s got a real good attitude when things get tough and that’s unusual for a 10th-grader,” senior quarterback Tony Smets said. “He’s a good leader. He’s always trying to coax the linemen into giving him holes, but he’ll also say, ‘Hey, guys, give Tony some time to throw.’ ”
In some ways, Carter has been Kennedy’s most indispensable player. Francola adopted the run-and-shoot offense in the off-season largely because the Golden Cougars lacked a strong runner. Smets was expected to carry the bulk of the offense and he has passed for 407 yards this season.
Smets credits Carter for adding diversity to the attack and leadership to the huddle.
“I’m relieved that we got him because he took the pressure off my shoulders,” he said. “He makes big plays when we need them. He can turn a quick dive into a big play at any time. I was real impressed with him right away even though he’s not that big. But when he hits big guys he levels them, because he hits so fast.”
Carter is gratified he has been a big hit at Kennedy but feels for his friends in Westlake Village who have not had the same chance to play. He attended the Crespi-San Fernando game to get his first look at White and it hurt to see Brown, whom he likens to a brother, sitting on the bench.
“We were just kind of dreaming around together when we thought about going to the same school,” Carter said. “It would have been nice and I keep in touch with all my friends. I tell them all to just wait, they’ll get their chance. I just got the first chance.”