Bill Zucco was teaching at MacCarthur Middle School in 1965 when he discovered one of the greatest athletes in Anne Arundel County history.
Zucco heard a seventh grader named Louis Carter dominated all school athletic competitions and wanted to find out for himself if the kid was the real deal.
It only took a couple after-school sessions of playing catch for Zucco to realize Carter was the finest natural athlete he’d seen.
“Lou was a big, strong kid who could throw a football or baseball a mile and run like a gazelle,” Zucco told The Capital before Carter’s induction into the Anne Arundel County Sports Hall of Fame in October 1993.
Two years after that initial meeting, Zucco transferred to Arundel High and became an assistant coach in football under Jim Curry and in basketball under Jerry Mears.
“I told Curry and Mears a kid was coming next year who would be the best athlete in the school the minute he walked in the door,” Zucco said.
Carter more than lived up that billing, becoming a three-year varsity letterman in three sports. He was the starting quarterback in football and starting point guard in basketball, leading Arundel to a pair of county championships in both sports.
Baseball was the only organized sport Carter played while growing up in Maryland City and he was outstanding in both the field and at the plate.
However, Ron Evans convinced Carter to participate in outdoor track and field during the spring and he developed into a top-flight sprinter, running the anchor leg on the Arundel 400-meter relay team that captured consecutive Class AA championships and placed third at the prestigious Penn Relays.
Carter, who became one of Maryland football’s all-time greats and spent four seasons in the NFL, died Sunday at the age of 67 after a bout with blood cancer. The longtime Laurel resident was a member of the third induction class into the Anne Arundel County Sports Hall of Fame in 1993.
“Louis was a man among boys when he was in high school,” Zucco said. “No matter what sport you were playing, if you had Louis Carter on your team, you knew you had a chance to win.”
Carter authored perhaps the greatest single-game performance in Anne Arundel County football history. As a senior in 1970, he amassed 438 yards of total offense and scored seven touchdowns to lead Arundel in a 72-6 destruction of Southern-Harwood.
Longtime Southern coach Buck Gardner would later recall that Carter ran the ball nine times and was never touched by a defender — scoring on seven carries and running out of bounds on the other two.
“What I remember most about that game was that it was the last of my high school career and Coach Mears told me I could do whatever I wanted,” Carter recalled in a 1993 interview with The Capital. “I played quarterback for a while, but once we got the lead I got to play running back and wide receiver.”
Mears wound up coaching Carter in football and used his talents as a quarterback in the Delaware Wing-T offense. A strong performance against Bowie in the 1969 season opener earned Carter a spotlight in the Oct. 13 edition of Sports Illustrated as part of the weekly “Faces in the Crowd” segment.
Carter was recruited to the University of Maryland as a running back and became the cornerstone of teams that turned around a struggling program. He was part of a talented class that included defensive lineman Randy White, quarterback Bob Avellini and cornerback Kenny Schroy that led the Terrapins to three straight bowl games under coach Jerry Claiborne.
“Coach Claiborne came in our sophomore year and we pretty much put Maryland football on the map,” said White, who played for the Dallas Cowboys from 1975 to 1988. “Louis was one of the leaders of those teams. He was always a classy, special person.”
White, a member of both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame, went against Carter in practice and grew to appreciate his running style.
“Louis was solidly built and brought a hard-nosed attitude to running the ball,” White said. “He ran with low center of gravity, made great cutbacks and had excellent speed. He had all the skills you look for in a great running back.”
Carter took over as the starting tailback as a sophomore and still ranks 11th in Maryland history with 2,266 career rushing yards. The 5-foot-11, 207-pound back led the Terrapins in rushing during the 1972, 1973 and 1974 seasons.
Carter established a career-high with 213 rushing yards against North Carolina State in November 1974. He was named Most Valuable Player of the 1973 Peach Bowl after running for 158 yards and throwing a 68-yard touchdown pass to tight end and best friend Walter White.
Carter was chosen first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference in 1973 and 1974. He was named second team All-America by Football News as a senior.
Billy Hahn play basketball in College Park from 1971 to 1974 and became a big fan of Maryland football in part because of the physical running style of Carter, who was nicknamed “The Beast” by teammates.
“That was because Louis ran so damn hard. He was a real bruising back who ran over and through defenders,” Hahn said.
Hahn remained lifelong friends with Carter and the two often attended football games together at Maryland (formerly Byrd) Stadium. After retiring from pro football, Carter sold cars for a dealership in Laurel and Hahn was a loyal customer.
“I went to Louis when it was time to buy a first car for my son and he gave me a great deal on a Pontiac,” said Hahn, who was the lead assistant for Maryland basketball from 1989 to 2001 during the tenure of Hall of Fame coach Gary Williams.
Carter went through a tough time when his wife was battling cancer. Kelly M. Carter died in March 2014 at the age of 57.
“I called Louis regularly to try to keep him positive about his wife’s situation. When [Kelly] died, that was a real body blow to Louis,” Hahn said. “He was a very dedicated, loyal and faithful type of person. Family and friends meant a lot to him.”
Carter was a third-round pick of the Oakland Raiders in the 1975 NFL draft. He showed up early for training camp and will never forget the first time touring the team’s facilities.
“I walked into the locker room and it was like a picture. Every locker was filled with equipment — the uniforms hanging perfect and the helmets on the shelves,” he recalled in 1993.
Center Jim Otto, a future Hall of Famer renowned for wearing 00 as a uniform number, was the only player present. He was wearing only a towel, having just showered after working out.
“Here comes old double zero welcoming me to the team and telling me about the Raiders, but I wasn’t hearing a word,” Carter said. "I was looking at Otto and he had scars on every part of his body. I thought, ‘My God, is this what the NFL is all about?’ "
Carter returned kickoffs and punts as a rookie as the Raiders reached the AFC Championship game against the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. That offseason, he was taken No. 1 by the fledgling Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL expansion draft.
“I was crushed. I’d planned on going to Super Bowls with the Raiders and instead I was going to Tampa Bay where we were guaranteed to lose,” Carter said.
A pair of former Heisman Trophy winners from Southern California — Anthony Davis and Ricky Bell — opened the season ahead of Carter on the depth chart. However, toughness and durability enabled Carter to take over as the starter and lead the expansion franchise in rushing during its inaugural 1976 season with 521 yards. He famously threw the first touchdown pass in franchise history, a 1-yard shovel pass to receiver Morris Owens on a broken play during a 13-10 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Oct 17, 1976, at Tampa Stadium.
“We had no blocking and AD and Ricky couldn’t take the punishment,” said Carter, who enjoyed three solid seasons with the Bucs before being traded to the Washington Redskins in 1979.