St. Francis senior running back Lamar Carswell said he learned a crucial lesson during a sophomore season spent on the junior varsity team. THE BLADE/ISAAC HALE
Coaching transitions always bring change to football teams.
With the new faces come new schemes, new practice routines, and new expectations.
When Chris Hedden succeeded Mike Blochowski as the coach at St. Francis de Sales in 2012, promising sophomore Lamar Carswell experienced all of these “news,” and he wasn’t quick to buy in.
“We had [offseason] weightlifting every morning at 8 o’clock, and I didn’t go every day,” Carswell said. “We’d have five a week, and I’d go to maybe two or three.”
Carswell’s level of commitment was not high enough to meet the standards of Hedden, who subsequently assigned the talented sophomore running back to the junior varsity team.
“We were trying to establish a commitment in the offseason to do the right things,” Hedden said. “I don’t know if Lamar thought I was joking, or didn’t think I was serious, but his athleticism had always gotten him by in the past.
“One of my pet peeves from being a college coach was to set the tone for preparing for that next step in life. So he didn’t dress for one game of varsity football as a sophomore. I think initially he was mad at me for it, but he’s grown and matured.”
Carswell eventually got the message, and the football took care of itself.
“It took me a while to realize what he meant,” said the 5-foot-9, 175-pound senior, whose talent was evident as early as his fifth-grade season playing for Our Lady of Perpetual Help. “I was just so used to having everything handed to me. With [Hedden] coming in, it was a tough transition.
“I had to man up. I was pointing the finger instead of taking a look in the mirror and realizing that it was all me. Coming into my junior year I turned it all around. I started to work hard and listen to what he told me. It worked out for the better.”
Playing in just eight of the Knights’ 11 games last season, Carswell rushed 187 times for 1,283 yards, had 10 receptions for 72 yards, and scored 15 touchdowns to key an 8-3 season for St. Francis, which reached the Division II playoffs. He missed three games with injuries.
“You don’t coach the great running backs, you just give them a little direction of where they’re going, and they make the plays,” Hedden said. “He can do that. He can make something out of nothing. He’s so explosive.”
Included in Carswell’s 2013 stats was the most prolific single-game offensive output in school history.
In a wild, 72-61 victory at Lima Senior, he rushed 45 times for a school-record 411 yards and five touchdowns. He also added a 97-yard kickoff return for a sixth TD.
“That was a lot of fun, but it was a surprise to me,” Carswell said. “I didn’t expect to do any of that going into that game. But I gave it my best effort. Coach Hedden kept running me, and I stuck with it.”
Hedden had been stuck on Carswell since the season opener against Southview. He ran for 175 yards in a 21-18 win.
Then there was “The Game.”
“His game against Lima Senior was unbelievable,” Hedden said. “He was all over the field. He was electric.”
Carswell also rushed for 225 yards in a 30-13 win against St. John’s Jesuit, then 234 more during a 56-27 victory against Clay.
Hedden has seen talented running backs in his time as a college assistant and believes Carswell has the potential to match them.
“His first step is unbelievable,” Hedden said. “I’ve been around a lot of great players at the University of Toledo and Akron and Northern Iowa, and he’s second to none as far as his first step and what he can do.
“He only played eight games. If he’s in those other games maybe he’s close to 1,800 yards. He’s very dynamic, and he got stronger as the game went on.”
Spending his sophomore year on the JV team is something that has left college recruiters uncertain about his future prospects.
“Everybody was in this spring to look at him and talk to him,” Hedden said. “They all want to know about his sophomore year. I told them. I’ve been in their position. Nothing’s more frustrating than having a dynamic player who doesn’t know how to work or do the right things in the program.
“The college coaches are real excited about him, but they’re waiting to see what he does his senior year. I’ll be really shocked if he doesn’t get a Division I offer. He’s got that kind of talent.”
Carswell is confident he can produce well enough to earn a scholarship.
“I think I was above average last year, but I feel I can do a lot better this year,” he said. “I’m going to try to get to 2,000 yards this year.
“I’m going to do my best, see what offers I can get, and go from there.”
Carswell will carry the football in his arms this season, with thoughts of his friend and former teammate Keontae Johnson in his heart.
Johnson, who is walking again, is still recovering after being wounded in a drive-by shooting during the summer. He is not likely to play football again.
Carswell, who wore jersey No. 5 last season, will don No. 6 this year.
“I went up one number for him,” Carswell said. “He was No. 1 and I was No. 5, so 1 plus 5 equals 6. I had to do something for him.
“Keontae is like my best friend. I was with him earlier in the day when that [shooting] happened. That taught me not to take anything for granted because you never know what can happen.”
■ LAST SEASON: 187 carries for 1,283 yards; 15 touchdowns for 8-3 Knights (missed 3 games).
■ BEST GAME: 45 carries for 411 yards, 5 TDs, and 97-yard TD kickoff return in 72-61 win over Lima Senior.