Rick Carlson has had football in his blood since he played in elementary and middle school in Mead, and in high school at Longmont. After that he dedicated himself to becoming a serious student of the game.
He came to Wellington to serve as pastor at the River of Life Fellowship 19 years ago. For 11 of those years, he’s been coaching seventh and eighth grade football at Wellington Middle School. His wife, Julie, and daughter, Crystal, both teach in the special education area at the school and son Sam, a senior at Colorado State University on a full-ride football scholarship, is the Rams’ starting right tackle. “Number 71,” his father adds proudly.
Carlson has recently led his seventh grade team to an undefeated season and a district championship. “For the last three years I’ve been honored to have tremendous talent on the team,” Carlson said. This year 42 boys turned out to play, an indication that football is alive and well at Wellington Middle School, according to Carlson.
He’s an advocate of what he calls “co-curriculum,” a philosophy that sports contributes to success in academics and that academics are vital to success in sports. Ineligibility is rarely a problem for Carlson’s teams.
He takes very seriously the issues around head injuries in the game and explains that “the old days are over” when it comes to players using their heads to tackle. “We teach our teams to use their legs, arms and body weight, not their heads, to make tackles.” He’s also insistent on using helmets that provide more protection. The guidelines have filtered down from the NFL where coaches are making similar changes.
Carlson’s enthusiasm for the quality of his team has no end. “We took it to the rest of the district this year,” he said. “There was no other team in our league.” They played eight games with scores like 50-10, 44-0 and 50-6, and that was putting in their second team late in the games.
In a normal year Carlson hopes to have between one and four players he calls “studs” but in the last three years he’s had whole teams of all-star players and another stellar set of players for back-up. “We had no problem defeating teams with two and three times our enrollment,” he said. “We average 400 yards of offense in every game. Our kids can throw a pass 45 years and run 60-70 yards for a touchdown. Perhaps it’s something we’re putting in the water.”
His eighth grade team from last year went on to an undefeated season at Poudre High School, C team, in Fort Collins this year.
Carlson enjoys coaching so much that he’d be game right now to begin a new season. He’s looking for great things from this year’s quarterback, Sergio Terango, running back Tate Satterfield and wide receiver Garrett Ramler.
He credits part of the team’s success to what he calls “understanding the nomenclature.” The players work hard to learn their base formation and a series of variations which allow them to execute more than 200 plays. Most teams at this age have no more than 25 to 30 plays they can run with success. Carlson said his players have bought into the system to the point where they are dreaming up their own plays.
If all goes as expected next year, Carlson hopes to develop offensive and defensive squads, something practically unheard of among middle school teams.
Maybe it’s the water, but more than likely this kind of success has a whole lot to do with the knowledge and dedication of a coach who knows and loves the game and his players.