Quincy Carter was an addict. His life? 'Hell.' Now, he's here to help.
Addiction grabbed hold of the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback. He's gradually been picking up the pieces, but it hasn't been easy.
Too often, names completely fall out of our memories.
Never to be heard from or thought of again.
There’s a good chance Quincy Carter is one such name for you. The quarterback out of Georgia was handpicked by Jerry Jones as the face of the franchise to replace Troy Aikman at the turn of the century. He struggled. He led Dallas to the playoffs in Year 3. He disappeared. A failed drug test ended Carter’s Cowboys career, he played for the New York Jets one season and… that was it.
Personally, I hadn’t thought much about Carter these last 15 to 20 years. That is, until stories started popping up about his problems with addiction. Just recently, 2019 on, he has found a way to get his life back. He’s in his mid-40s now and works as a sponsor himself after getting so much help from his own over the years, former Cowboys great Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson. This month, it was announced that Carter would lead the BRC Recovery Center’s Athlete and Entertainers program in Manor, Texas.
Founded in 2006, BRC Recovery serves as a chronic relapse addiction treatment center.
Carter is also coaching young quarterbacks.
It’s been a slog. Carter had it all out of high school in Decatur, Ga. — a rocket arm, athleticism, size. The Chicago Cubs even selected him in the second round of the 1996 MLB draft. His sophomore year at Georgia, Carter rallied the Bulldogs from a 25-10 deficit in the Outback Bowl to beat the Drew Brees-led Purdue Boilermakers. There was no denying his athleticism. Few quarterbacks moved like this.
Yet, as he explains, Carter got hooked on pot at a young age and it became a gateway drug to much worse.
After the Montreal Alouettes released him in 2006, one CFL club told the Montreal Gazette they avoided signing Carter due to a “serious marijuana problem.” They weren’t lying. From there, he bounced around on obscure teams nobody has ever heard of. The Shreveport Battle Wings? The Abilene Ruff Riders? The Corpus Christi Fury? Carter couldn’t get out of his own way.
Our full conversation is below with a video replay as well.
His 20s and 30s were rough — but Quincy Carter is convinced he finally addressed the man in the mirror. You can follow him on Twitter @QuincyLCarter.
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Where does it start? A lot of people out there probably remember you as the star at Georgia. High pick. Second round. Dallas Cowboys. Jerry Jones wants you — you’re going to replace Troy Aikman. You went to the playoffs. You went 10-6. You had success, and then poof. Football-wise, people didn’t hear from you. They don’t know what happened. So, take us on the rise first. From college to the pros.
Carter: Heck, I’m going to back you up a little bit — into high school. I had a great time as a kid growing up in Decatur, Ga. With all the athletes I was growing up around. Atlanta was starting to really cultivate into being one of the major cities in the country. We got the Olympics in ’96. And then also winning a state championship in 1995, my senior year in high school. So those are some great times. College, going to the University of Georgia. And I’m skipping over baseball because I got drafted in baseball.
College was great. Going to the University of Georgia was a blessing in itself with all that rich tradition. But then being able to take my talents to the NFL was such a blessing. It really was.
What’s going through your mind when the Dallas Cowboys draft you to be a heir apparent to a Hall of Famer?
Carter: You know something? Before I broke my hand in college, honestly, there were a couple names being mentioned and I was one of them. The likes of Drew Brees and Michael Vick. And this is right before I broke my hand in my junior year. So I had to fight my butt off after breaking my hand. Some marijuana rumors out there, about me being a leader. Things like that I was fighting throughout the draft process, I had to really come in and prove myself. So honestly, it was spoiled a little bit because I found out before the draft — a couple days before the draft — that the Cowboys were going to be drafting me. So I knew firsthand who was going to be drafting me anyways. My agent told me, “If certain teams skip over, that’s who’s going to come and get you. The Cowboys were going to jump up, no matter what, if somebody got wind of picking you.”
I say all that to say this: I didn’t care who drafted me. I was blessed that the Cowboys did. But I wanted to prove I could play in the NFL because you hear some of the naysayers out there. You try to block it out as much as you can. But I heard some things. It didn’t matter, honestly, who I got drafted by. I was blessed enough to put a star on my helmet. I’m forever grateful for it.
Fifty-third overall in the 2001 draft. In the preseason, they were using you in the option and people didn’t know what to make of it. Now, we see RPOs in every offense. You’re probably watching today’s football and thinking, “What the heck?”
Carter: Honestly, the Cowboys and (offensive coordinator) Jack Reilly was using me as best as he could. So he could slow my maturation process down a little bit. And then I could continue to grow. So the things I felt comfortable in, we talked about it. It wasn’t a whole bunch of reading over the middle early on. But anything one on one outside — comebacks and curls and things of that nature — I was real comfortable with. So, we were just trying to do things I was comfortable with. But that read option, I do think about that some days. Although, now, it’s not a big hit in the NFL. It’s really not. Because of the athletes getting sideline to sideline. You can’t stretch out defenses as much as you can. It’s not as big of a winner in the NFL. You get your guys every four or five years who can do it. Like your Lamar Jacksons, your Robert Griffins. People sprinkle it in but you can’t make a whole offense out of it.
That’s a good point. It’s not the basis for what quarterbacks can really do play-in and play-out. But by Year 3, Bill Parcells is your coach, and you go 10-6. You threw for over 3,000 yards, 17 touchdowns, ran a little bit. You made the playoffs. Things are good at that point, right? You’re turning a corner.
Carter: Turning a big corner. We had a great year. Our defense played their ass off, too. A lot of people give me credit for being a playoff quarterback. Which I was. But I played around some dang good defensive players, too. I ended up failing a test going into this fourth year in the drug program. When I look back on it now, I started the habit at 16, 17 years old smoking weed that followed me until I was 26, 27 years old. And then when it was time to stop, I didn’t have that control to stop because I was doing things the way Quincy wanted to do it. So, I started depending on it. I started taking it to take the edge off of the pressure. I don’t even know if you want to call it pressure. To a sense, you almost have to. Or else, why would you be doing this? One of them was taking that edge off. The second was, hey, I had a problem at 26, 27 years old. It got worse after football. When the thing that I love… it really hurt me to get cut like that. I went to the Jets for a year. Then, the wheels really started to fall off after I didn’t get signed.
I don’t know if it was an addiction at 16 and 17 but, hell, it became one at 27, 28, 29 — full-fledged. And it followed me. Things just continued to get worse. The arrests. Man, I tell people, if you even think you have a problem, you’ve got to get some help. Not only get you some help. You’ve got to be willing to go through this process of getting through the 12 steps and really living a life of recovery. If I really tried to live a life of recovery back at 27, 28 when I knew I had a problem — but I didn’t want to admit it — my whole life story would be a whole other story. But I took myself through that pain and that misery, thinking I could still cope and do some of the things that were not even possible to do in trying to have the life I was trying to have. But I didn’t really have that defense, and that defense is these 12 steps and a higher power, which is God for me, and really working this recovery. I was in and out of rehab but I wasn’t working a lot on recovery, so I wasn’t getting the results. That’s the bottom line.
Was it strictly marijuana? Alcohol? Other drugs? What did it entail, the addiction?
Carter: I graduated to cocaine. I did. But it started with weed and a little bit of drinking. I didn’t even like to drink. But once I got cut, some pills got mixed into that addiction a little bit. The weed. The alcohol. And, yeah, I graduated to cocaine.
What does day-to-day life look like for you? When you were at your worst? How much were you using, and what is the feeling like when you’re toiling in this existence?
Carter: Let’s just say it was purely hell. I don’t go into bragging about the downs because everybody has their story. But I’ll put it like this: It was a chase for my serenity, and my serenity sometimes involved me being stoned just to get by. Because when I wasn’t, I was miserable because I did not have the tools and was not really going through recovery to really fill my spirit and really live that life where I know things are going to be OK. Getting to a meeting. Calling a sponsor. Going to help somebody else. I wasn’t using those tools that are really entrenched in the recovery. So, there were times that my peace and serenity — sadly to say, just so I could god-dang not go crazy all the way — was through drugs and alcohol. Yeah, absolutely.
It'd just get you through the day. In your head, you need it to survive.
Carter: To survive. You’re dang so right.
Did you know it was doing you extreme harm in the moment? Did that hit you? And this is your late 20s?
Carter: Late 20s, hell, all the way into my 30s. In and out of the program. Going to rehab. I called it “getting fixed up.” Letting God get the dust off me and getting me back on my feet and then I’d want to get back off and do it Quincy’s way. I was only able to see that when I went through rehab. But then when I started going to rehab, it was, “Whoa. OK. Now I have to do the hard work to get through some of this pain.” I avoided that pain. I avoided looking at who was the real reason of me failing that test and then getting cut. Now, I’m in New York and it’s 20, 30 degrees in September and snowing in September. I was the reason for that. I was the reason for why I was broke. I was the reason why my relationships with my kids were dwindling out of control — if it even was a relationship with my kids. And I didn’t want to face that hard pain. So the results of it was medicating myself with drugs and alcohol.
Which has to feed a depression. You’re watching football, too, and thinking, “I should be out there.”
Carter: Absolutely. It all feeds hand-in-hand with each other. And then especially on top of the head injuries that you’ve already suffered and you’re not on your medicine like you should be. Man, listen, you’re just in a whirlwind of disaster.
We’ve had Ryan Leaf on here. Alex Green. Several former players who’ve dealt with various drug issues, addiction issues. I feel like it always comes back to one common theme of, “I had to look in the mirror and say I have a problem. It’s my ass. I have to figure shit out.” Really hard conversations with yourself. I’m guessing you’ve had a moment like that. What was that one final rock bottom for you? And how did you start turning it around?
Carter: I’ve had a couple, man. Sadly to say. But this last one, I’m in an extended stay hotel. It’s July 2019. Me and my ex-girlfriend, we got into another crazy fight after a crazy night of just partying. Not a physical fight, but an argument. That morning, I got on my knees and I was crying my balls off. I got on my knees and I asked God to take complete control of my life. Then the next thing that happened, I was on the phone with Hollywood Henderson, and Hollywood called a good friend of his, Marsha Stone, up here in this office that I’m working in right now. He called her and I came to BRC. They were down there in the valley, to get me in Weslaco, Texas to pick me up, to BRC within six hours. That was the moment. All I could do was cry out to God and my next thoughts, which I know God placed in me, was “You need to call Hollywood and get some help.” I haven’t turned back since.
I’ve committed to looking deep inside myself. One of the things I had to really do was I had to work these steps. I had to go through a hard step four, getting these resentments out. I had to go through steps eight and nine where we’re making amends. More importantly, No. 1, I had to admit that I was powerless over this thing. Two and three, asking God to bring you to sanity. And three, now you’re letting God completely have your will. Don’t let me scare you with the God thing, for anybody listening. It’s a higher power of your understanding. For me, it’s God. Then, in step 5, we go ahead and tell another person everything we’ve been going through. Now, they sit back and listen to everything presented to them. Then, they jot down some character defects of what they’ve seen and what they’ve heard. I can go all the way from six through 12 but if you don’t do this hard work — and you don’t go through this pain you have to go through — then you’re not going to get results. And I don’t sugarcoat it. At all.
Ryan and Alex have said there were times they could’ve been close to death, if they stayed on this trek. Do you think you were heading down a similarly dark path?
Carter: Oh, absolutely. Because my depression kept getting worse and worse. I’ve alluded to it before but sometimes doing drugs, drugs were the best thing for me to get out of that depression. Now, you’re making it worse ultimately. But, hell, just to god-dang move your feet some way, hell, have a drink or do some coke just to god-dang move yourself around. That’s how bad it was.
You went through these steps. You got better. How do you get through the day today? What are you doing now to fill that void that you’d fill with drugs?
Carter: My morning starts with praying. I have a morning routine. I’ll meditate. If I can’t get my meditation in, I make sure I’m reading something and I read the Daily Word. Actually what my Mom’s been giving me since I was 12 years old. So, I read my Daily Word and there’s a one-a-day passage you read through AA. It’s a one-a-day scripture deal with NA, too. I’m really fixing my spirit. I go to three or four meetings a week, depending on my schedule. I just live a life of recovery, man. I block those 30 minutes out in the morning and it’s not like a full-time job, then I go on with my day. I have three or four guys that I sponsor. I don’t run them down because I know if I’m trying to run them down, they don’t want it as bad as me. Do different situations fit themselves where I make myself available to call them? I will. But I have to make sure you want it, too.
Whatever God puts in front of me, I’ve got my spirit right for it just to deal with life. Ultimately, what this thing has been about, too, at the same time is I didn’t know how properly to deal with life and that’s been for a long time. It hasn’t always been alcohol and drugs. But what about that coach I gave attitude to? What about that teacher I had some choice words for? Then, I started replacing it with the marijuana. These bad behaviors started at a young age, they really do, and they carry on with you. And then there’s things that get in your way that you replace with that attitude or something.
My spirit is ready for anything life’s going to bring on a daily basis.
The pressures of the league can just exasperate this all, too. You’ve got millions upon millions of people watching you, rooting for you, booing you. In your case, probably worse than boos after a while, and you’ve got to deal with all that. You’ve probably talked to so many former players who’ve gone through similar things. This could be a bigger issue than anybody realizes.
Carter: Absolutely. But in saying that, we know what we signed up for. Now, it’s about going about it the certain way in channeling some of this energy and how you can put yourself in positions to make good decisions. Financial literacy. How you can conduct your business with your money. Family relationships. There are courses and seminars. The NFL Symposium before we get into the NFL. But it’s also listening to this information to help you. It’s not overwhelming if you’re doing the proper things and you’re fixing your spirit and you’re listening and you’re letting people help you. You can overcome all those pressures of the NFL.
Your relationships with your kids are good now? You’ve got several.
Carter: Absolutely. Everything is getting better. And the only reason why is because I’m working this program. I’m living a life of recovery. Like they say, “More will be revealed and it just keeps getting better.” Hey, I’m a recipient of that. So, I’m going to keep marching.
Miss a previous Q&A at Go Long? A handful of links below…
Ryan Leaf took us inside his darkness. It wasn’t pretty. He became quite emotional through our chat. Now, he’s a lifeline for other players experiencing the same depression he did.
You won’t find many former players as transparent as Alex Green, too. Like Carter, the former Packers running back fell into a cruel cycle of coke, weed and alcohol. Like Carter, he’s alive to tell his story. His is particularly harrowing.
Darren Woodson dishes on the wild days of the 90s Cowboys… and how tough it is for players to transition to a new life once they’ve retired.
Long ago, Mario Butler’s father was found chopped to pieces inside his own refrigerator. Seriously. How did the future NFL DB possibly recover? His reaction to such an unspeakable tragedy serves as a life lesson for all.
Ahman Green was born to be a Packers running back. He relives the virus that could’ve killed him as a child and so much more.
Kurt Warner’s life story was made for the movies. We discussed the power of resilience.
How does a kid go from the wheelchair — thinking his sports days are long gone — to completely changing the safety position in the NFL? LeRoy Butler’s impossible life is worthy of the big screen, too.
Rob Johnson heard his share of boo birds back as the handpicked savior in Buffalo. Right around the same time Carter was the chosen one in Dallas. If people only knew what his life was really like.
Drew Bledsoe opened up on the hit that changed football forever.
He wasn’t the best teammate. He also gritted through more pain than anyone knew. Why it’s time to view Trent Dilfer in a new light.
He's traveling the world, challenging his mind and hitting the deck on a loud "Boom!" in Iraq. Here is how Bruce Smith still seizes the day.
All Q&As can be read on the tab at the top of the GoLongTD.com home page.