ESPN will premiere ‘What Carter Lost’ on Thursday night, a ‘30 for 30’ documentary on the tale of the 1988 Carter Cowboys football team that won a state championship.
But after the championship, some of the team's key players went to prison for armed robbery.
In September 1989, friends and family grieved and vented anger outside a Dallas courtroom. Inside, Judge Joe Kendall had sentenced 12 high school students. Eleven received prison terms.
Judge Kendall noted that in six months they'd committed more armed robberies than Bonnie and Clyde did in their entire lifetime with 21 in all.
The shocking story began to unfold in late June of that year with the arrest of two prominent members of the Carter High School football team — Derric Evans, an all-American, and Gary Edwards, another highly-recruited player — after they'd held up two video stores.
In the coming weeks, ten others were implicated, including four other members of the Carter team. Evans, who'd earlier signed a letter of intent with Tennessee from a hot tub, got 20 years in prison. Gary Edwards got 16 years.
But the longest term went to teammate and alleged ring leader Keith Campbell. Frankly, Judge Kendall told Campbell in court, "You scare me."
Campbell is now 45 and a proud father of four. He’s a trucker who didn't let the 7 and a half years he spent in prison dictate the rest of his life.
"I was raised right. I just made some stupid decisions,” he said. “Since I came off parole, which is about three years ago, I very seldom look back except to mentor or be a testimony to somebody. In terms of looking back, it's only to share a story and inspire others."
Patrick P.K. Williams was a stocky defensive lineman and co-captain. He got 14 years. He's been married for 23 years and is now an associate pastor at his church. And like Keith Campbell, he credits his faith for seeing him through the 3 and a half years he spent in prison.
"I was young. We made a bad decision,” Williams said. “But I'm better than my past now through Christ Jesus."
"A lot of people talk about that they have a faith,” Campbell said. “But a lot of times, you don't really have to exhibit that, and I had to."
"There's a lot of this story that nobody's ever really heard,” said Adam Hootnick, the director of ‘What Carter Lost.’ “The Carter community had never gotten to tell their side of the story."
A premiere showing of the ESPN documentary was shown in Dallas last Wednesday. It was a tale of what may have been the best high school football team ever.
Nearly half of its 36 seniors earned Division 1 scholarships. Twelve underclassmen would play at major colleges. Five played in the NFL, including five-time Pro Bowl linebacker Jessie Armstead, who thinks the documentary gets the back story right.
"The key is that the kids can see the mistakes that was made and the good things to come out of it,” he said.
Old teammates Keith and Patrick and Arthur Muhammed walked the halls of Carter not long ago. Muhammed was junior receiver on the 88 team who went on to win a scholarship to SMU. He later wrote and directed the 2015 feature film called ‘Carter High.’
"ESPN has a much bigger built in audience so I think the story will get out more, and that's really the key,” Muhammed said. “It's a story of choices. And even though it sounds simple, you'd be surprised how one choice you make can affect the rest of your life.
"There's not one individual off that team, if they're alive today, that aren't doing well,” Campbell said.
"All these guys go, all of them come out and all of them are doing well,” Muhammad said. “Not one of them gets back in trouble and everybody is doing well. So that alone tells you they're not bad, they just made some bad choices and some bad decisions.”
For the record, Carter beat Converse Judson for the 1988 title but eventually lost a court case over using an ineligible player, Gary Edwards, and was stripped of the title in January 1991.