Shortly after school opened at Copperhill in 1954, diminutive principal Buck Arp was patrolling the halls of the school. During his rounds, he encountered Don Carter, all 6 feet, 180 pounds of the young man. Buck looked up at Don and said “son, what grade are you in?” Don replied that he was in the eighth grade. Buck said “well, I want you to report to football practice this afternoon.” Don obeyed, easily made the team and started on a journey that has landed him a spot in the 2015 class of the Fannin County Sports Hall of Fame.
Don and his two brothers grew up in the Newtown section of Copperhill. It was a tough, working class neighborhood in the 1950s so Don learned to take care of himself early on in life. His size and natural strength did not hurt in that endeavor. Don also had good quickness and speed so the game of football provided a logical stage for him to display his talents.
Don Carter played a lot for the Copperhill Copperheads during his 8th grade season. He won a starting position as an offensive and defensive tackle as a freshman in the autumn of 1955. As usual, the 1955 Copperhill team was short on numbers, usually dressing out 20 or so players each game. Don was one of only three tackles on the team and was generally expected to play the entire game, offense and defense. Undaunted, however, Don was dominant on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
The 1955 Copperhill High School team finished with a regular season record of 7-2-1 and appeared in the only bowl game in the school’s history in that era of pre-playoff competition. Don Carter was a big part of the team’s success and was cited for his stellar play in the annual ‘above the mountains’ Polk County gridiron war with Ducktown that year. That game, the last game in the history of the two schools before consolidation, ended in a 7-7 tie.
George Cobb Jones, the star running back on the 1955 Copperhill team heaps praise upon Don Carter for his contribution to the 1954 and 1955 teams. In discussing the 1955 team, Jones says “Don was a key factor in Copperhill’s very successful offense that year. Specifically, his aggressive line blocks were mandatory for Copperhill’s ‘bread and butter’ plays to succeed. He was outstanding”.
Meanwhile, Don’s family had moved from Newtown to a home between the Mineral Bluff Highway and Toccoa River in Georgia. When the Polk County School Board decreed that Georgia residents would no longer be allowed to attend school at Copperhill, Don found himself shipped off to West Fannin High School for his sophomore year in 1956. Don was required to sit out the first four games in 1956 while he cleared up some academic problems and joined the team for the fifth game of the season against Murray County.
Don made his presence known to Yellow Jacket opponents immediately. The Copper City Advance newspaper had this to say about his debut in the Murray County game: “Don Carter, a newcomer to the squad, turned in a stellar performance at left end for the Jackets”. By this time, Don had grown to about six feet, two inches and a no-fat weight of 200+ pounds.
Don continued to dominate the line play in West Fannin games throughout the remainder of the 1956 season and the entire 1957 year. The 1957 West Fannin team finished with an all-time school best record of 6-3-1, thanks in no small part to the outstanding play of Don Carter. His performance was recognized by the Associated Press which named him to their Georgia Class AA All-State Honorable Mention team as a junior following the 1957 season.
Gene Crawford, one of Don’s younger teammates at West Fannin and a Fannin County Sports Hall of Fame member, pays tribute to Don Carter thusly: “I never lined up against a better lineman than Don Carter. There was no fat on him. He had good speed, strength and quickness. He had good instincts for the ball and he was an intense athlete, which made him such a great defensive player. He was unstoppable. When Don Carter lined up on your nose you had to be ready to battle because he was coming through you, around you or over you. He played with a highly revved up engine on every down; this was the only way Don knew how to play football”.
Don Carter’s goal in life since early childhood was to be a United States Navy man. He was particularly drawn to the role of Navy deep sea divers. The lure of the Navy was on his mind as he reported for preseason football practice prior to the 1958 season. He went through the first two weeks of practice before celebrating his 18th birthday. In what appeared to most as a rash decision, but actually something Don had mulled over for years, he left the football team and joined the Navy.
Don approached his Navy career with the same gusto and aggressiveness that had served him so well on the football field. He was able to realize his dream of becoming a deep sea diver, one of the most dangerous and complex areas of military service. The training for deep sea divers is arduous and only the most physically and mentally fit young men make the grade.
Don remained in the Navy for 12 years, rising to the rank of First Class Petty Officer and First Class Deep Sea Diver. He performed numerous dangerous and vital missions during his military service.
Don worked in Atlanta for a while after leaving the Navy. He and his first wife produced two sons, both of whom are now adults. After his first wife passed away, Don returned to the Copper Basin area and, in 1975, he secured employment with the Tennessee Copper Company where he stayed until his retirement in 1987.
In 1983 Don and Gilita Chapman, a local girl who was an outstanding basketball player at West Fannin, met and were married. They have now been married for 31 years and make their home in McCaysville, with their small menagerie of two dogs and a cat.
The 2000 film ‘Men of Honor’ starring Robert De Niro, Cuba Gooding Jr., is considered by most as an accurate presentation of the character required to become a Navy deep sea diver. There is no question that Don Carter is certainly a ‘Man of Honor’ and the Fannin County Sports Hall of Fame is proud to add him to the membership roster.
Don passed away December 25, 2014.