The first time Howard Carter's name appeared in this paper was in 1992. Back then, running a business was the furthest thing from his mind. He was the 6-4, 235 pounder who'd driven 14 hours from his Kansas home to play football — one of the "Anticipated Six," a sportswriter christened them. Fans hoped the group of junior college transfers could somehow steer Bill Curry's Wildcats out of the doldrums.
The next three years saw one Peach Bowl but no miracles.
When the team went 1-10 his final season, Carter quit school. "I was uninspired; I didn't like football anymore," he said. He went back to Kansas to lick his wounds and decide what to do with his life now that his NFL dreams had fallen short of the goal.
Back home, his father wouldn't stand for any moping. "You're going to have to get a job," he told him. Carter found work at a pork processing plant. After a year of turning out bacon bits for Pizza Hut, he decided to move back to Lexington and finish his degree.
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To help pay for school, he went to work for Foster and Assoc., a Nicholasville concrete company.
The fact that he was built like a defensive end may have helped him get hired, but he was "a total greenhorn," he says. "I didn't know anything about using a tape measure, or pouring, or anything about construction." He learned that on the job while finishing up his coursework.
By the time Carter graduated in 1997 he had switched to another company, Harrod Concrete.
The work suited him, so he stuck with it. It was outdoors and a little different every day.
He also liked the camaraderie. "It reminded me a little of football — a group of guys working together to get something done," he said.
But the day his boss saw him driving to a side job and handed him his walking papers was the day he started being his own boss. Howard Carter Concrete has been in business since 2001.
His world is flat, but not all gray
Carter's company focuses on driveways, sidewalks, patios, pool decks — what's called flatwork in the trade. Variety comes in with the different finishes. At the Arboretum, a large outline of a butterfly shows that their flatwork can be curved and colorful.
On a recent day, Carter and his crew were installing a driveway at a home in a Lexington neighborhood that takes its curb appeal seriously.
From start to finish, the installation will take more than a week. First comes the excavation of the old concrete, a job Carter farms out to Tom Chesnut Excavators. Then comes the prep work. Getting the correct elevations is the most important step, says Carter. "If the water doesn't drain in the right direction, it's all for naught." Forms are set and gravel graded. Wire mesh is put in for reinforcement. Next comes the pouring. Here, the wet concrete is ferried in a "Georgia buggy" from a truck parked on the street. Then the concrete is leveled or 'screed' with boards and smoothed with finishing tools called floats. The next day, control joints are cut in to prevent cracking. Because this driveway is made of "exposed aggregate," meaning pebbles are visible at the surface, the crew applies a retardant to keep the top layer of concrete from setting up. The next day they come back with a pressure washer to spray that layer off. Finally comes the finish. A couple coats of sealer are applied. Carter will return over the weekend to make sure a third coat isn't necessary.
Homeowner Diane Layson, watching as the crew wades in rubber boots in the wet concrete, says she and her husband did a lot of homework before hiring Carter. "We called around and his name kept coming up. We looked at quite a few jobs he'd done years ago in Chevy Chase, and they'd held up really well."
Carter said he gets most of his business word-of-mouth; one job on a street often multiplies into several. He gets a lot of calls from Angie's List, where his work consistently earns straight As. The Better Business Bureau gives him an A+ rating.
"I've always tried to do the best I can," he says.
As former Wildcats ends coach David Turner said in 1994, "Howard can be as good as he wants to be."
The whole ten yards
Carter says it took him three years after his final UK season before he could even watch football on TV. But he's long over the disappointments now and loves the game again. "I'm a UK season-ticket holder, a member of the K-Club," he says. He and his wife are raising a passel of student-athletes. His son plays in an indoor league.
Carter is asked if he has any advice for this season's incoming Wildcats, who'll face the same kind of pressure to rescue the Wildcats as he and his teammates did in 1992.
"I've learned the importance of staying focused," he says. "It's the same thing I tell my own kids. Just stay focused and give 110 percent. If you've done your best and you fall short, so be it."
And from his older and wiser vantage point, Carter the highly regarded businessman can assure them that even if they fall short of their pigskin goals, that doesn't mean they'll spend their lives making bacon bits.