Nervous Carlson Calculates Statements

It's not that John Carlson doesn't like the media attention he's been getting during his breakout season, the senior is just nervous he's going to say the wrong thing. The Notre Dame tight end calculates his words with all the famous sports clichés, not because he's afraid of irritating head coach Charlie Weis, but in hopes that his teammates won't find a way to razz him about it later.

"He's nervous because he knows if he says the wrong thing we just rip him for it," said tackle Ryan Harris, who leads the charge as Carlson's roommate. "He's so quiet, so I think last game he said I rag on him all the time, so I came home and I was like I make fun of you all the time? We just get on him all the time and he doesn't want to say the wrong thing. I think for him, he is a little surprised with we're pumped with him being such a great player for us."

Carlson has maybe been the best tight end in the country, certainly the most prolific) hauling in 45 receptions for 620 yards (tops among tight ends nationally) and three touchdowns, helping the ninth-ranked Irish to an 8-1 record. Quarterback Brady Quinn said the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Carlson is like another receiver running around instead of a tight end.

"First I would say thank you to Brady but I don't really feel like that," Carlson said slowly. His 62-yard touchdown reception against Michigan State is the Irish's longest pass play of the season. "Obviously I don't move down the field like Rhema (McKnight) and Jeff (Samardzija) do and make the dynamic plays they make, but it's a nice compliment from Brady."

Carlson is now receiving the biggest compliment of all. His name keeps popping up with where he'd go in the NFL Draft. Carlson could forego his final year of eligibility, take his history degree and declare for the NFL draft, even though it seems like he is leaning towards staying with three games and a bowl to go.

"Really right now I'm thinking about the season," Carlson said. "I'm thinking about doing what I can do to help this team win. That other stuff will kind of take care of itself as the season moves on. It's not something I'm dealing with. We'll deal with that after the season is over."

The NFL does come up occasionally at home.

"I mean in joking because I know that's a tough decision for him," Harris said. "I don't know the factors, but being his roommate, we just try to use the house as a place to relax and not talk about those things, because we know those things will handle itself."

Instead the two talk about getting a Minnesota flag to put above the television honoring their home state.

Maybe they'll be able to put the John Mackey Award trophy on top of the television, honoring the nation's best tight end. Carlson is on pace to better, Ken MacAfee's Irish single-season record of 54 catches for 797 yards. Not bad for a guy that entered the season with only 13 career catches playing behind Anthony Fasano, now of the Dallas Cowboys.

"To be honest coming into this season, I had no idea as far as catches number wise, I really had know idea what to expect," Carlson explained. "It's not important. It's just one of those things that happens when you have some dynamic players on the outside and a great quarterback and a pretty awesome running back. I've been the beneficiary of some of that."

Though Carlson is quiet, his intensity can't be denied. Weis said earlier in the year when he drops a ball in practice or misses an assignment, he's not mincing any words. Carlson's emotion can be seen when he makes a big catch on game day or carries a couple North Carolina defenders into the end zone.

"He's an incredibly hard worker," Harris said. "We knew when he was emerging as the No. 1 or No. 1-A whatever you want to call it, he was going to work extra hard to make sure he didn't let us down and he really hasn't. He's been tremendous for us and I just told him the other day, it's so awesome to see you score touchdowns and make big plays because I know how hard you've worked."

Carlson and the offense have worked to find consistency, something that has plagued the unit this season. They seem to have found some rhythm the last two weeks against defenses they should dominate, gaining over 400 yards in wins over Navy and North Carolina.

"I think we are feeling a lot more comfortable with what we're doing, very comfortable with the way things are going," running back Darius Walker said. "We as an offensive unit definitely feel that the last few weeks we've been able to get the job done, and do it the way we want to get it done. Now we want to stick to the fundamentals and basics, things that have got us where we are now."

The Irish hope to continue the offensive success against Air Force, another team they should have no problems moving the football against. With Air Force ranking 106th nationally in pass-efficiency defense, Carlson and company should have no problems getting open, Saturday.

The offensive line will have to do a better job of protecting Quinn than they did last week in the win over a heavy blitzing North Carolina team, where the Irish signal-caller was sacked three times and hit on several other occasions. The Falcons struggle to bring pressure, ranking 90th nationally in sacks per game.

"We know playing Air Force our possessions might be limited," guard Dan Santucci said, referring to the Falcons' ball-control running offense. "We just want to go out there and execute the game plan. That's our goal this week, to go out there play with good fundamentals and execute the game plan."

If the game plan is the same as usual, it will involve a heavy dose of Carlson.


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