Most native Texans who made their fortunes in oil did so without leaving the state. Not Duke Carlisle, who was born in Kaufman and went to school in Athens. More than 20 years after the oil boom took the former Texas quarterback and wildcat driller into the top tax bracket--and the oil bust five years later brought him back down--the 62-year-old Carlisle still lives in McComb, Miss., where he runs the oil and gas exploration company that bears his name and made him rich. ?I don?t remember the first time I struck oil,? says Carlisle, ?but I can tell you the oil doesn?t come gushing through the derrick like you see in the movies. I put a good deal of time, effort and money into generating every prospect. When one came through, sometimes it was like winning the lottery.?
Carlisle first hit the jackpot as a senior in the 1964 Cotton Bowl, throwing touchdown passes of 58 and 63 yards and running for another score to lead the top-ranked Longhorns over No. 2 Navy, led by Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach, to cap Texas?s first national championship. In three seasons with Carlisle in the starting lineup--at safety as a sophomore, as a two-way player his junior year and at quarterback as a senior-- Texas was 30-2-1.
The 6'1", 176-pound Carlisle was drafted in the fifth round by the Green Bay Packers but was cut in training camp. The Dallas Cowboys picked him up, and he spent the entire ?64 season with the team without playing a down. But Carlisle didn?t go directly from the playing field to the oil field. He spent the next two years earning an MBA at Texas and then applied to the Army?s Medical Service Corps rather than waiting to be drafted. He was sent to Landstuhl, Germany, where he worked in administration at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. ?Although I got that good assignment, I assumed that after a year or two I would be assigned to Vietnam,? Carlisle says. ?That call never came.?
He got out of the Army in 1969 and spent the next five years as an investment banker with Merrill Lynch in New York City and Dallas. Then he left the company and moved his family to McComb, where his father-in-law was in the oil business. Soon thereafter Carlisle joined with a geologist, Riley Hagan, to form an independent prospecting company, and they started wildcatting throughout the South. The partners drilled several successful wells and sold oil and gas properties for as much as a 600% profit. During a four-year period beginning in ?79, when the price of a barrel of crude went as high as $40 (the equivalent of $80 today), the Carlisles lived the good life. ?It?s fun when you don?t have to worry about next month?s bills,? says Duke?s wife of 40 years, Emily. ?We were flying high for a little while.?
The oil bust in the mid-?80s forced Carlisle and his partner to shift the focus of their business from wildcatting to buying and selling oil and gas properties. Hagan died almost six years ago, but Carlisle continues to look for oil-rich land. ?I don?t work as hard as I used to,? he says, ?but I work on the things I enjoy.? -- Gene Menez