Preston Carpenter (1934–2011)

Preston Carpenter played football in high school, in college, and in the National Football League (NFL). He played for the Arkansas Razorbacks in the 1952–1955 seasons and went on to play for several teams in a twelve-year professional career. His older brother, Lewis Carpenter, preceded him as a Razorback, and they once played for the same professional team.

Verba Preston Carpenter was born in Hayti, Missouri, on January 24, 1934, to Verba Glen Carpenter and Edna Earl Pullam Carpenter. He spent most of his early years in West Memphis (Crittenden County) but graduated from high school in Muskogee, Oklahoma, where he was an all-state high school football player. A gifted athlete, Carpenter also played baseball in high school years, when he and brother Lewis played in the American Legion League for West Memphis, the third best in the state, with Lewis pitching and Preston catching. He lettered in baseball in college and played minor league baseball in the summers of 1956 and 1957. In his later years, he narrowly missed qualifying for the Senior Professional Golf Association Tour.

With football as his focus, however, the 190-pound, 6’2″ star was awarded an athletic scholarship by the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) and played freshman football under the staff of coach Otis Douglas. In his sophomore and junior years in 1953 and 1954, he played on the varsity team as blocking back and linebacker in coach Bowden Wyatt’s single-wing formation. As a senior, in coach Jack Mitchell’s T-formation system, he was a 1955 All-Southwest Conference halfback.

Perhaps the single play that is most remembered by Razorback fans of the mid-twentieth century was “the pass.” In 1954, the fifth-ranked, undefeated University of Mississippi Rebels played the underdog, though undefeated, Razorbacks in Little Rock (Pulaski County). Ole Miss, in its previous five games that season, had outscored opponents 171–35. Late in the fourth quarter of a scoreless game, in a fake running play, blocking back Carpenter caught a thirty-three-yard pass from the tailback and ran thirty-three yards for a touchdown, beating the Rebels 6–0. Arkansas rose to number four in the national ranking.

Carpenter married Jeanne Etychison on April 2, 1953, in Muskogee. They had three sons: Scott, Bruce, and Todd.

In 1956, Carpenter graduated from UA. The defending league champion Cleveland Browns had the thirteenth pick in the NFL draft and selected him in the first round. Initially, he was used as a running back, but he played various positions in his pro career. As a rookie, he gained 756 yards rushing and averaged twenty-five yards on fifteen kick returns and was named Second Team All Pro. For the next three seasons, Carpenter was used by the Browns primarily as a fullback and receiver and had 1,368 yards receiving and five touchdowns. He led the team in rushing in 1956 and in receiving in 1958. His brother Lewis was a teammate in 1957 and 1958.

He moved to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1960, where he was a receiver and returned kicks, averaging twenty-five yards per return. In 1962, he was selected for the Pro Bowl as a receiver.

In 1964 and 1965, he was with the Washington Redskins. The 1966 season was split between the Redskins and the Minnesota Vikings. His final year was with the American Football League’s Miami Dolphins in 1967.

After his football career, Carpenter held various positions in the business world. When he first went to Cleveland, he had established a residence and lived there for nineteen years during and after his football career. He worked for an industrial tool manufacturer and then in sales and management positions with a trucking company. He accepted a transfer to manage terminals in Fort Smith (Sebastian County) and then in Little Rock, while living in Conway (Faulkner County). During that time, he coached a semi-pro football team for two years.

After twenty years and the sale of the freight company, he moved into industrial sales in Texas and Oklahoma and relocated to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. In 1992, he went into the insurance business there, retiring in 2005. His brother Lewis enlisted him to join in coaching an NFL Europe League team in Germany for the 2005 season.

Carpenter was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1992 and the University of Arkansas Sports Hall of Honor in 1996. He died in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 30, 2011, from cancer.

For additional information:
Henry, Orville. “Hall of Fame Inducts Five New Members.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 22, 1992, pp. 1C, 10C.

Holt, Bob. “Carpenter Who Made ’54 Catch, Dies at 77.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 1, 2011, pp. 1C, 6C.

W. W. Satterfield
Little Rock, Arkansas


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