Carter is best known in track and field for setting the American national high school record of 81 feet 3½ inches in the 12 pound shot put, adding more than nine feet to the previous record. He set this mark at the 1979 Golden West Invitational track and field meet while competing for Jefferson High School of Dallas, Texas. No high school athlete has come within four feet of this record since. In 2004 this record was selected by USA Track & Field as the 16th greatest moment in American track and field over the previous quarter century, the only high school mark to make the top 25 greatest moments.
Carter attended Southern Methodist University on a football scholarship. He was a member of both the 1981 and 1982 undefeated team, as the immovable object in the center of the defensive line. His track and field endeavors were almost an afterthought. Still he won four indoor and three outdoor NCAA shot put championships. He was part of the SMU 1983 NCAA Men's Outdoor Track and Field Championship team. His lifetime best with the 16 pound shot came in his only defeat at an NCAA Championship meet, when in his senior year he launched a throw of 21.76 m (71-4 3/4 feet) to finish 2nd to John Brenner's collegiate record of 21.92m (71–11 feet) at the 1984 NCAA Championships. After graduating, he won the silver medal in the shot put at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.