Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Cowboys down: Longtime power Carter has hit a rough patch
Dominique Cannings was like all the southern Dallas kids. He witnessed the Carter Cowboys' aura each fall, idolizing the football powers of the teenagers dressed in the same colors as Superman. They seemed better than college, better than the NFL.
"I thought," says Cannings, now a senior running back, "Carter was the best team ever."
The high school football team was so much to so many - and still is - and that's why this year has caused so much pain.
Carter used to be a state power. It was the team of Friday Night Lights, the team of Michael Crabtree and Jessie Armstead, the team that ruled the Dallas ISD, the team that played with a passion for football perhaps equaled only by its supporters.
But this year's Carter team is 2-5. It lost those five games by a combined score of 172-81. Even after a crucial victory against Kimball on Saturday, the Cowboys may need to win their next three games to earn a playoff berth.
"This is one of those situations you've never been in," said coach Allen Wilson, "and you have to find a way to get out of it."
Carter was the school Gail-David Dupree always pointed out from the highway. He came to the Dallas area from Iowa to coach at Hillcrest in the early '80s, and one of his first high school football memories in Texas involved a lesson in Carter's prestige.
He was an assistant, and Hillcrest defeated Carter. Fans rushed a muddy field. The players didn't stop screaming in the showers. Nobody beat Carter. Dupree learned that, and he admired the school from then on.
"Every time I used to travel down Highway 20," says Dupree, now Carter's principal, "I'd look over and say, 'There's Carter.' "
From 1971 to 1990, the Cowboys made a state semifinal four times and won the state title in 1988. Scandal erupted when six players from that '88 team were charged with robbery. Its state title was also stripped because of an ineligible player. The cloud didn't linger for long, though. Carter kept winning, kept sending kids to college.
The team's down periods have involved losing early in the playoffs - where they've been 33 times - not suffering losing seasons.
"We were known for the winning," says Robert Hall, quarterback of the 1988 team, "and the scholarships."
Carter was the football program Wilson noticed from afar as he won state championships at Paris and Tyler John Tyler.
"You always thought if you had the opportunity," he says, "you'd want to coach there."
Wilson has coached at Carter since 2002. He won his first 11 games, and restored glory to a team that hadn't won a district title in five years.
Back then, 1,861 students attended Carter. Now, there are only 1,235.
The neighborhood has changed. Families who used to live in southwest Oak Cliff are moving out to Lancaster, DeSoto and Cedar Hill for more space. The school's reputation has slid. The last two years, Carter has received an academically unacceptable ranking.
"Now they're getting these letters," says Dupree, "and if I'm in a middle school and I've got a choice, you're going to think about what school you're going to send your child to."
Wilson and Dupree refuse to make excuses. But Freddie James, who coached Carter from 1982 to 1995, works in the press box at Kincaide Stadium. He's seen the team play three times. He believes the exodus has depleted the roster.
"They don't have the type of athlete," he says, "they used to have years ago."
A vocal group of fans think they might have an idea, one that's circulated for a while. After a playoff loss to Richardson Berkner in 2006, Dupree saw that a brick had been thrown through his office window. An attached handwritten note asked him to fire the coach.
It's all part of the passion and expectation. Shouts of "pass the ball" were easily audible in a loss to Seagoville two weeks ago, a plea for Wilson to adjust his trademark rushing offense that incorporates several rushers each game.
"I don't fault any parent for being upset," Dupree says, "but I don't like it when everybody is like 'fire the coach, this coach is taking us downhill.' We have a very good coach."
So what is Carter now? The past is present every day. Team logos of the '80s are still on the locker room walls. Mottos haven't changed much either, and neither will expectations.
Dupree glows about the promise of the junior varsity and freshman teams. Wilson hopes the varsity might have discovered the energy that's been missing this season during the 15-sack victory over Kimball last Saturday. James talks about the chance, albeit a small one, of the Cowboys still being able to win the district title.
The team's rich heritage isn't as much an albatross as an impetus, a light they see in the distance even when a season has so far been consumed by darkness.
"Carter is going to be Carter," Cannings says, "and our tradition is going to stay."