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Football: Quiet Carlson makes loud statement

Chris Khorey | Monday, September 11, 2006

Notre Dame tight end John Carlson walked out of the locker room after Saturday’s 41-17 Irish victory over Penn State and found himself in a mob scene.

Carlson, an unassuming senior who replaced Anthony Fasano in the starting lineup this season, had just finished the biggest game of his career, a six-catch, 98-yard performance in a big Irish win and most of the reporters in the Notre Dame Stadium press room wanted to talk to him.

“It’s always nice to catch the ball,” the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Carlson sheepishly told the media.

Irish coach Charlie Weis was slightly less humble when talking about his newfound star tight end, who also caught four passes for 35 yards, including a diving catch for a first down, in Notre Dame’s 14-10 win over Georgia Tech last week.

“John made some big plays [against Penn State],” Weis said. “He’s had back-to-back pretty good performances for us.”

Carlson’s catches spoke for themselves, including a 29-yarder that set up a field goal and a 32-yarder in the waning moments of the first half that set up a touchdown. The tight end said he knew before the game that the Nittany Lions would focus on Irish receivers Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight, leaving him free.

“We knew that the middle would be open this week, and we just exploited that,” he said. “When you look at our team, we have Rhema and Samardzija. I would tend to cover those guys more than me.”

Last season, Carlson caught seven passes for 56 yards and a touchdown. This season, he has already surpassed those numbers in just two games.

Irish quarterback Brady Quinn said Carlson is filling the safety-valve role that Fasano provided the last few seasons while adding a speed dimension that Fasano didn’t have.

“John’s done a great job of filling Anthony’s shoes this year,” Quinn said. “Not to take anything away from Anthony, but John’s an extremely athletic guy.”

Weis said Carlson isn’t as “polished” as Fasano, but is lethal nonetheless.

“[Carlson] is not as polished as Anthony at this point because Anthony could do everything pretty well,” Weis said. “But John’s a big target now. He’s a big muchacho running down that field.”

Carlson himself admitted he has things to work on.

“I didn’t feel like I blocked too well [against Penn State], so I have to work on that,” he said.

Carlson got his first career touchdown last year against Purdue and was open in the end zone for a chance at his second in the second quarter on Saturday, but Quinn’s pass sailed over his head.

“It happens,” Carlson said of the play. “I miss blocks and drop passes. We all make mistakes.”

While Carlson’s answers Saturday were mild-mannered, Weis said the senior’s desire to succeed can sometimes trip his temper.

“I’d like you to know, he does have a temper, despite the image he’d like for you to see,” Weis said Sunday. “It might be [only] one word, but when he drops a ball or misses a block or makes a mistake, his blood pressure does rise. He’s not as calm and even-tempered as you may think.”

That fire in Carlson has helped him flourish since he assumed the starting role.