TAMPA — Before Haden Carlson became Steinbrenner’s rugged 6-foot-3, 195-pound senior quarterback, he was many other things.
• He was one of the area’s best soccer players.
• He was a gifted hockey and basketball athlete.
• He was 6 feet, 130 pounds.
All those things, however, occurred before his freshman year at Steinbrenner, where he started playing football for the first time, a fact that is curious because his dad is Jeff Carlson, a quarterback for the Tampa Bay Bucs and New England Patriots between 1990 and 1992.
“My dad wanted me to do what I wanted to do and football just didn’t come to the front for me until high school,” Carlson said. “And then it was all football.”
Was it ever.
Soccer, the sport he had devoted 100 percent of his life to, was completely in his rear-view mirror.
“I remember lying in bed my freshman year, so excited to go to the next football practice, even though I was a backup and it was a thousand degrees outside and it was brutal,” Carlson said. “I loved the energy of it with the pads on and everyone running around. I loved the fact I was a quarterback, the position that can control so many things.”
By the time he was a sophomore, Carlson, up to a whopping 6-1, 135 pounds, was the starting quarterback and he started his first game on opening night.
Things didn’t go great
Carlson was beat up and battered because he was new at it and his team was young and inexperienced.
The Warriors finished the year 2-7 and had heard a lot of grief from classmates in the halls.
“On the rides home from practice we had a lot of talks because there were a lot of tough times,” Jeff Carlson said. “I had some stories like that to tell from my playing days. I think that helped. Hopefully it did.”
Looking back, the younger Carlson said that year made him better and tougher in every way possible.
“Now I wouldn’t trade the experience,” he said. “There were (about 35) of us who were sophomores together and we all hung in there and kept at it and got better together. Now we all can’t wait for our senior season.”
In the meantime, it’s work, work, work and talk, talk, talk about football all the time with Carlson’s teammates and coaches and, of course, with his dad.
As for expectations, they’ve never been higher.
Carlson, a Florida International University commit who threw for 1,418 yards as a junior, says the Warriors are poised to vastly improve on last year’s 5-5 record that included four straight victories to end the season. This year the Warriors share a district with annual playoff contender Plant, as well as Alonso, Palm Harbor University and Wharton.
“I feel prepared,” Carlson said. “I believe we are all ready for a great year.”