Guest post by Steve “Dr. Sap” Sapardanis
AC . . . with the NFL Wilson football FWIW
A while back legendary Michigan Football Equipment Manager Jon Falk told me the story of how Anthony Carter was given the #1 jersey to wear by Coach Bo Schembechler. He also told me that Bo went to unbelievable lengths to get AC to come to A-squared.
Recently I tracked down former U-M Coaches Bill McCartney and Don Nehlen to get the real details of how Carter became a Wolverine. Nehlen told me that U-M was not regularly into recruiting Florida back then, but at the same time, Michigan was still a considered a program with a national reach. “I can still remember the first time I saw him at practice,” Nehlen told me. “I said, ‘Oh, brother—this is a pretty fragile looking guy!’ He was a dynamite football player, though.” One concern they had about recruiting in Florida was the reality of having to bring the players to Michigan—and more specifically—the Michigan weather. While he was involved in the courtship, Nehlen also told me that the point man for the recruitment of AC was coach McCartney.
Sure enough, coach Mac had the full skinny and here’s our Q&A:
Steve Sapardanis (SS): Was Carter the most electrifying athlete you had seen in High School?
Coach Bill McCartney (BM): Yes. He really was electric. He had balance, acceleration. His quickness was uncommon. He was a cut above. One thing you have to remember, the kids in Florida were able to play football year round and as a result, they had a noticeable edge when they got to college. By the time I went to visit him, he was already leaning toward Miami (Florida).
SS: Did you as coaches feel AC would get you over the hump and help you win a bowl game at Michigan?
BM: You gotta remember, he was the rage! He was the cat’s meow! He was shot out of a cannon! He was faster than a speeding bullet! It didn’t surprise me one bit that he returned a punt for a touchdown in his first game (at Michigan).
SS: Did you have to recruit his parents to get Anthony to come to Michigan?
BM: In some cases, you are right – you have to recruit the parents, because sometimes if you convinced the kid to come without selling the parents on it, you could lose the kid. That wasn’t the case with Anthony. Michigan was an easy sell.
SS: Why do you think AC wanted to come to Michigan?
BM: Michigan was the maximum experience. It was a college town. It was a safe town; close to a big city. It had the largest stadium in the country. The most wins in college football history. It was wholesome.
SS: Wasn’t Carter worried about Bo running the ball and not throwing it a lot?
BM: You’re right about Bo wanting to run the ball, but I don’t think Anthony really knew a lot about Michigan, to tell you the truth.
SS: It sounded like AC was the prized recruit in his class – was that the case?
BM: Absolutely. I’ve never told anyone this before but we saw that the temperature for his visit to Ann Arbor was going to be 10 degrees. So we had this plan (laughs). We covered every detail with the coaches and his host.* It was all rehearsed. I flew down to Florida to pick up Anthony and brought him up to Ann Arbor. Because it was so cold, we were worried that the weather might affect his decision, so when the plane landed in Detroit, we had a car waiting to pick us up. So as soon as we got off the plane, I rushed Anthony into the car (laughs). And when we got to Ann Arbor, we had the car pull up right in front of the football building and whisked him inside. I had it coordinated with the other coaches so that Anthony was never outside for more than 10 seconds. [The host] did a great job with Anthony, showing him around and saying all the right things.
When his visit was over, I flew back with him to Florida. It was the only time I would ever fly to meet a recruit and fly back home with him – he was that important and that special. When we landed in Florida, Anthony said to me, “You know coach, it really wasn’t that cold!” That’s when I knew we got him.
SS: Did the promise of an indoor practice facility factor in his recruitment?
BM: It never did, because we didn’t want to make a big deal about the weather. See, if we talked about that, or how cold it would get, it would have put all the focus on the weather and we didn’t want to talk about that.
The ‘79 staff from the game program that season
SS: I heard that while you got AC’s mother to sign his Letter of Intent, getting his father to sign it was a little more involved. Did you and Bo actually go into the Florida Everglades to get Carter’s father to sign his LOI?
BM: Yes, it’s true.
SS: Bo literally rolled up his pant-legs, took off his shoes and socks and walked into the Florida Everglades to get Anthony’s dad to sign his Letter of Intent?
BM: Yes. (laughs!) The old man was foaming at the mouth to get AC!
SS: Why did both of Carter’s parents have to sign his Letter of Intent? Couldn’t it have been faxed?
BM: We weren’t taking any chances. We didn’t want to run the risk of a fax. Lots of things can happen at the last minute. Lots of kids will change their mind and vacillate – especially with out-of-state kids. And with Anthony being from Florida, there were a lot of schools down there wanting to get him to sign. Anthony was insecure, but was an extra-ordinary kid who came from a not so stable situation. So Bo and I went down there and timed it (with all the other recruits) so that we were there (on Signing Day). In my mind it was a done deal. That’s why Bo came with me. If Anthony hadn’t signed, I would have been fired! I would have had to find my own way home! In my mind, he was the single greatest recruit Michigan has ever had – ever! I mean, he was a three-time All-American! When has that ever happened?
*Coach Mac couldn’t remember the host player’s name, but John Wangler later told me he thought it was Zeke Wallace from Pompano Beach, FL.
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