Payback With Interest : Former Trojan Carter Finds His Niche Teaching at Anaheim High
It would have been all too easy to portray Allen Carter as an underachiever, maybe even a failure.
Had those chest pains--the ones that made him fall to his knees three years ago--been the real thing, Carter might have been considered just that.
A one-time football star who had never fully realized that wealth of potential. Another former jock struggling with post-football trauma.
But what grabbed his chest that day was stress-related, a little perk from his job as a field consultant for Southland Corp. Carter was relieved, temporarily.
“I woke up in the hospital one day,” Carter said, “and started thinking, I could pass away at any moment. What had I accomplished? What had I given back?”
It’s now very easy to portray Allen Carter as successful, a content, even happy man who has brought his life into focus.
He had answers to those questions, and they led him to Anaheim High School, where he is the activities director and an assistant football coach.
What had he accomplished? Plenty.
Carter was one of the best running backs of his generation when he came out of La Verne Bonita High School in 1972. The best, some said.
His career then collided with Anthony Davis at USC. Still, when he was called upon, he delivered, helping the Trojans rally to win the 1975 Rose Bowl.
But what had he given back? Virtually nothing.
“I did some serious soul-searching,” Carter said. “I had to turn my life around, that was clear. There had been so many people who helped me. It may sound idealistic, but I owed something.”
This week is homecoming at Anaheim High. A nightmare for an activities director.
There are details and headaches, lots of them.
This is Carter’s first year as activities director and second as a varsity assistant. He has been juggling those responsibilities all week, and teaching four classes.
And he has enjoyed every hectic minute.
“I never once in my life thought about teaching as a career,” Carter said. “But it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”
Carter came to Anaheim three years ago, shortly after quitting his job with Southland--a corporation that runs 7 Eleven stores. He started as an assistant for the freshman team, the only coaching spot available.
It wasn’t long before Craig Haugen, the school’s principal, was hearing about his newest coach.
“Four different opposing coaches told me what a gentleman Allen was and how much he knew about football,” Haugen said. “I had never had that happen before. I found out what they liked about him. He cares a great deal about the kids. That’s the type of person you need at a school.”
Carter became a full-time teacher this year. He’s giving, which is what he was soul searching for.
“I feel real comfortable now,” Carter said. “My life is clicking.”
The last time Carter’s life was clicking, people were chasing him all over football fields. Rarely did they catch him.
Carter was big and fast, a 6-foot, 200-pound man-child, who as a junior had won the State 100-meter championship with a time of 9.7.
He broke all of Glenn Davis’ records at Bonita. He gained 4,388 yards and scored 70 touchdowns in three years.
As a senior, he gained 1,915 yards, scored 33 touchdowns and was named the Southern Section 3-A player of the year.
“He was the best high school running back I ever saw,” former USC Coach John McKay said.
McKay was amazed one night, watching Carter almost beat his son’s Bishop Amat team single-handedly.
“Allen had four 80-yard runs that night,” John McKay Jr. said. “Fortunately, two of them were called back because of penalties.”
Every college wanted Carter, but only the biggest had a shot at him. McKay sent O.J. Simpson for a visit and people began drawing comparisons.
Carter liked that picture, but tried to keep things in perspective.
“My dad was a janitor and he took me to work with him a lot,” Carter said. “I would be scoring touchdowns Friday night and emptying trash cans Saturday morning. It kept me from getting too big of a head.”
Still, there were expectations. When he picked USC, people began predicting incredible accomplishments.
“Allen was suppose to gain a kazillion yards and win two, maybe three Heisman Trophies,” former USC and Ram quarterback Pat Haden said. “He might have, too, if he had stayed healthy.”
Carter led the USC freshman team in rushing and appeared to be on the path to greatness. As sophomore, he was No. 2 on the depth chart, behind Rod McNeill and ahead of Davis--who was also a sophomore.
Then he sustained a series of leg injuries. Carter could only watch as Davis took over at tailback when McNeill got hurt.
In three years, Davis did about everything that was predicted of Carter.
“When I got hurt, Anthony stepped in, and there was no going back from that,” Carter said.
Still, there were flashes of Carter’s ability.
He had 70 yards in two carries in a game against Washington. He had 93 yards in nine carries against Washington State.
Carter finished with 1,180 yards during his career.
“I call Allen one of my great hidden tailbacks,” McKay said. “People never heard as much about him as they should have.”
Carter accepted his role and even used it to his advantage. With Davis carrying the ball, Carter began carrying a heavier academic load.
As a result, he graduated in four years with a degree in public administration.
“At the time I went to USC, I thought I was going to be the big star,” Carter said. “I was going to play football and be rich. But everyone at USC was a high school All-American.”
Carter was ready to call it a career. Just one game remained: the Rose Bowl.
USC, ranked fourth in the nation, was facing No. 2 Ohio State for the third consecutive year. The game featured a matchup between Buckeye running back Archie Griffin, who had won the Heisman Trophy, and Davis, who had finished second in the voting.
The showdown never materialized. Davis suffered a bruised sternum and ribs and was out of the game in the second quarter.
“I was expecting to return kickoffs that day and I was hoping to maybe break one,” Carter said. “Then they yelled for me.”
By the fourth quarter, the Trojans trailed, 17-10. They took possession for the last time on their 17. Behind Carter’s running, USC pounded the ball up field.
He gained 30 yards on the drive, including a six-yard run on a fourth-and-two play.
On the following play, Haden connected with McKay for a 38-yard touchdown pass. He then hit Shelton Diggs for the two-point conversion and USC won, 18-17.
The next day, the Trojans were voted No. 1 in the UPI poll.
“I’ll always remember that pass to Johnny and the two-point conversion,” Haden said. “But none of it would have been possible without Allen. I’ll always remember that, too.”
Carter finished with 75 yards in 18 carries.
“I felt strong that day and got stronger as the game went on,” Carter said. “In fact, I wish we could have played another quarter. I thought it was my last game.”
Carter had never started a game at USC, but New England made him a fourth-round pick. He was the 86th player selected. It even surprised him.
He spent 1 1/2 years with the Patriots, then suffered a knee injury. He bounced from the Patriots to the New York Jets to the San Diego Chargers in less than a year.
He had knee surgery and was rehabilitating when the St. Louis Cardinals called.
“They wanted me, but I decided that I’d had enough of being tossed around,” Carter said.
Life after football was hard, although not as difficult as it had been for some of Carter’s friends. He suffered through two of them overdosing on drugs.
Still, Carter struggled to find himself. He had three jobs and started a business during a 10-year period. None of it lasted.
“Most people get out of school and go into a career where they learn about realities,” Carter said. “Athletes don’t do that. They are protected and experience very little. It takes a few years to adjust.”
He finally hooked on with Southland Corp. and was put in charge of 10 franchises.
“I was the go-between for the company and the people who had the stores,” Carter said. “It was a stressful job. I would be up and out the door in the morning. I would get home at 8 p.m., have a bag of potato chips and a beer for dinner, then go to bed.”
The pace caught up with him.
Carter was hospitalized two days, then he took a month-long leave.
His wife’s mother worked in the athletic department at Anaheim and helped Carter get in as a coach.
It didn’t take long for Carter to fall in love with what he was doing. He went back to school to get his teaching credential.
“There’s nothing like the feeling of helping kids,” Carter said. “There have been a couple of troubled students who I’ve been able to reach. That’s a Super Bowl-type feeling.”
Yes, Carter is content. He’s happy. But satisfied?
“I feel like I’m just getting started,” he said. “When I can make a difference with every student here, then I’ll have reached my goal.”