A native of Wintersville, Ohio, Carney attended Ohio U where he excelled in football and track. After earning All-Mid-American honors as a running back in 1953, Carney went off to serve with the U.S. Army. He returned to the Bobcats' lair in 1957 to again gain All-MAC honors as well as a spot on the 1959 All-American track & field team. However, it was in track that Carney earned his greatest honors. At one time he owned or shared six OU records, including the 220 (20.7), the 100 (9.4), and the 440 (46.9). Told he wouldn't have a chance to earn a spot on the Olympic squad, Carney persisted. "When you want something bad enough you're willing to sacrifice anything for it," Carney said. At the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Carney surprised everyone but himself by chasing Italy's Livio Berutti to the wire in the 200 meter to earn a silver medal.