"Probably like twenty or thirty, after you get warmed-up," he said. "But twenty or thirty good kicks." And do stress that ‘good' part because Carlson is not out there in the summer swelter simply to knock the pigskin around. Just as with his classroom obligations, there must be enough boots that make the grade before he will call it a day. Oh, and ‘good' involves more than the ball splitting uprights.
"It definitely has to feel good. Even if you make it, it doesn't always look good. So you have to go with what feels good for you. And normally the ones that do really feel good are the ones you definitely make."
Carlson's kicks must have been feeling pretty darned good by the end of the 2007 season. He hit all of his final six-straight field goal attempts of the season, spread over the last eight games, after going 4-of-7 on his September three-point tries. Of course those early-season struggles are a distant memory effectively erased by the biggest kick of Carlson's career: that 48-yarder with twelve ticks left to complete Mississippi State's comeback and 17-14 Egg Bowl victory. And his 22-yard chip shot tied up the Liberty Bowl halftime tally.
He is 18-of-29 with career field goals, and 67 of 68 on points-after. All well and good, so to speak. Still the new season looms and Carlson, along with his fellow specialists, have picked up the late-summer pace…when they can. "I have to go work out in the morning because of class," he said. "It's going good, we're working hard."
Saying ‘we' brings up the unique nature of Carlson's practice routine. Blake McAdams and Eric Richards can hone their skill solo if they don't mind chasing down punts and kickoffs. For placekickers it's another matter, at least when they want to do go through real-time actions. Carlson, and backup Richards, can and do practice off a tee, just like on the sidelines during games. In fact lately Carlson has done a lot of that, both because of morning class conflicts and a run of afternoon showers.
Getting snapper Aaron Feld and holder McAdams together for complete placekicks? ""That's what has been tough, with class trying to schedule everybody around," Carlson said. "We've tried going in afternoons a couple of times a week, but I've been having trouble sometimes. So that's why I kick in the morning, go by myself in Palmeiro." Which, he added, it not necessarily a bad thing.
"The net helps with the shagging part, and it's air conditioned in there! But we try to get everybody together and do it as much as possible. We try to get as much ‘live' action, because that's what happens in games."
Inside or outside, tee or team, one aspect is unchanged. "Everything is done towards an upright." Sure, a veteran kicker like Carlson would have a pretty good idea if his boots would have gone-good without a target to aim for. Still having those yellow poles as a literal frame for reference maintains the necessary degree of reality in the process of site, step, and swing. What might surprise fans is Carlson's underlying approach to these practices. He keeps the focus on routine, not on range.
"You don't worry about distance," he said. Nor for that matter does his coaches. In spring and fall scrimmages State placekickers very rarely are told to try from anything beyond the mid-40s. Partly this is because, as Carlson notes, the kicking motion is essentially the same for a PAT as on a 50-yarder. But there's another reason.
"I know in a game the adrenalin will be pushing a little bit and that the distance will come. And percentage-wise, most of your kicks will be closer, you've not going to have many 50-plus. You know when that does come you'll be able to get the distance, I don't focus on that because if I do the accuracy is going to be gone." Which was certainly true with the Egg Bowl on the line and Carlson kicking for his career-long at 48 yards. He had both range and accuracy when it mattered.
Of course exactly a year earlier then-sophomore Carlson had been asked to attempt from 51 yards to send another Egg Bowl into overtime at Oxford. That kick had the distance but drifted wide. Afterwards Coach Sylvester Croom defended the kicker, and under the circumstances fan criticism was reasonably muted. Carlson himself says now he never lost any confidence…but at the same time it was entirely rewarding to get another chance in 2007 and come through with the winning points.
"Oh yeah. It lets everybody else know what you know. Because like you say, you have to be confident. But you can't be cocky about it because if you are that can get into your head. You have to be confident, you know what you can do…but that kick going through just let everybody else know what I've known ever since I've been here, and the potential I've had."
Then again, having done it once the automatic expectation is for Carlson to do it again, and again, and again, and every time. It's a price he gladly accepts. "It's what I was brought here to do. I guess it's just good for everybody else to notice."
By next week practice observers will be noticing, and noting, how Carlson and company are kicking. Especially the coaches, who like the reports from informal summer sessions but want to see for themselves now. Thus the accelerated pace of these waning July days…though Carlson said he is keeping a cap on how many balls he boots. But then, that comment about two-a-days ‘killing' a kicker. Wouldn't that draw a sarcastic cackle from, say, linemen who endure two-a-days from a very different perspective?
"Yeah, it kills us in different ways," Carlson said. "Not from a running aspect! But from kicking every day. Once your leg gets ‘shot' it takes a while to get back. And you don' t really get any days off during two-a-days so you have to make sure you're prepared beforehand, so you can last out the whole month of August."
It's true, a kicker can get a ‘dead' leg just like a pitcher can have a dead arm. And just as a hurler doesn't really know it until the radar gun offers proof—or his fastballs start leaving the yard—a kicker can't tell until suddenly his distance vanishes. "Especially in practice, you'll line up for a long kick and don't make it and know something is up.
"And because it's not there you start getting in bad habits, trying to make it happen, and then it can go downhill real quick. We've been doing it long enough we know how things go and not to over-kick, especially the first couple of days."
Meanwhile Carlson has to take care of off-field business with final July exams. "And I never knew the summer classes would take up so much time, the whole month of June I may have kicked once or twice. So when I got back in July I was actually surprised how well I was able to kick. The consistency was there, and that was very encouraging. So that hasn't been a problem at all.
"And in the fall I've got a load, too, with finance, accounting, markets, so it'll be tough. But it's something I want to get through and I need to get through." So while that accelerated academic track might have made for a hectic summer and fall, it also means that Carlson will celebrate the new year with a MBA in hand and hopefully another bowl victory ring on his hand.
"That's what I was planning on, so I can either focus on training and working for a chance in the NFL—because I know it's just a chance—or I'll have my masters to fall back on. I don't know what the future holds but I'll be good either way it goes."