Carlson right at home as Auburn’s returning kicker
By Tim Gayle
Daniel Carlson looked a little out of place. And he knew it.
The Auburn placekicker is accustomed to being the focus of attention but this was different. At the recent Southeastern Conference Media Days, there are wide receivers, quarterbacks, linebackers and linemen, but rarely kickers.
“There are a lot of bigger, stronger guys than me but it’s fun to be able to represent special teams across the country,” Carlson said. “It’s a little different, a little more skilled position, but once it comes down to the fourth quarter and the game’s close, it’s a tough position to be in sometimes.”
Carlson isn’t noted for his last-second, game-winning heroics like some kickers are, but he’s been a steady mark of consistency since he arrived on the Plains in 2013.
Actually, he sat out that first year as a redshirt, but by 2014 he was busy making his own mark at Auburn, becoming the first Tiger to handle combined kickoff, placekicking and punting duties since Damon Duval in the early 2000s. His 18 points in the Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa tied the school record for most points by kicking in a game since Al Del Greco in 1983.
He’s been a Lou Groza Award finalist the last two years, holds a dozen kicking or scoring school records and needs just 65 total points (he’s had more than 100 in each of his first three years) to catch Blair Walsh of Georgia, the Southeastern Conference’s career scoring leader with 412.
No wonder Auburn officials elected to bring Carlson to SEC Media Days.
His appearance marked the seventh time in the history of SEC Media Days a kicker had been brought before the media. Carlson is in an elite group, joining Georgia placekicker John Kasay (1990), Kentucky placekicker Doug Pelfrey (1992), Tennessee placekicker John Becksvoort (1994), Georgia punter Drew Butler (2010), Texas A&M punter Drew Kasar (2014) and South Carolina placekicker Elliott Fry (2015).
Occasionally, a return specialist, such as Kentucky’s Derek Abney (2002, 2003) and Randall Cobb (2010) make the trip and are now more likely to make the trip since the number of athletes each school brings to Media Days increased from two to three in 2010, but the media generally don’t find talking to kickers a fascinating way to spend their time.
And while Carlson might not have kept the media buzzing with his appearance, there’s no denying he deserves the chance to be in the spotlight. Head coach Gus Malzahn called him a “true weapon” after pointing out the two-time All-American has a degree and is working on a master’s degree in business this fall.
“I appreciate the high praise from him, that he trusts me and he believes in me,” Carlson said. “That’s great but I think it’s something I had to earn over the years. We’ll see at the end of this year who has the best year. There are a lot of great kickers out there but I’m going to keep doing my best and hopefully I’ll have another big year.”
He’s never really faced a lot of pressure like last-second kicks, but don’t believe for a minute there hasn’t been a burden as Auburn’s kicker the last year or so. Points have been at a premium at times, so when Carlson took the field for a 53-yard field goal against Clemson last year, he knew every point would count. When he kicked six field goals against LSU last season, the Tigers needed every one of them. And when Malzahn describes him as a weapon, he’s talking about his ability on kickoffs to force the opponent to down the ball in the end zone and start at the 25 just as much as he’s thinking about Carlson’s nine made field goals of 50 yards or longer.
“You do it so many times over the years,” Carlson said. “I’ve probably kicked a million footballs. You just have to rely on that confidence in your ability, that you’ve done it so many times that you can step out there on the field and have confidence about it.
“Those 50-yarders are always fun, that’s always kind of extra, it can help the team a lot, but it’s inside of 50 that are usually the real important ones because that’s where you’re usually kicking from and that’s where the team really needs you to make sure you get those points.”
Now, he’s facing a different challenge as one of the elder statesmen of the Tigers. Kickers often work out away from the other players, making it difficult for Carlson to fulfill his role as a leader in 2017.
“I think the biggest thing is when the offense and defense are out there, I’m off to the side a lot of times, working on our own thing,” he said. “But I think a lot of it is how I carry myself off the field with my teammates. And showing that I’m doing the same thing they are in the weight room and with conditioning.”
His younger brother Anders is on campus now, giving opponents a double-dose of the Carlsons. When Daniel was a redshirt freshman, he punted in 12 of the Tigers’ games, so it’s something Anders should consider if he wants any playing time this fall.
“He was really similar to me in high school,” Carlson said. “He did (punt) for the team but he really didn’t focus on it. So he keeps it in his back pocket, just like I do. But they’re planning on redshirting him, just so they’ll have four years of him, letting him soak in this year and learn a lot, like I did.
“I punted my redshirt freshman year. It was a big surprise. It’s kind of the way things shook out. He needs to continue to work on it, just in case, but I don’t expect him needing to step in there.”
Since the Lou Groza Award was introduced in 1992, nine players have been one of the three finalists for the award on two separate occasions: Martin Gramatica of Kansas State (1997-98); Sebastian Janikowski of Florida State (1998-99); Jamie Rheem of Kansas State (1999-2000); Nate Kaeding of Iowa (2002-03); Mike Nugent of Ohio State (2002, 2004); Caleb Sturgis of Florida and Dustin Hopkins of Florida State (2011-12); Roberto Aguayo of Florida State (2013-14); and Carlson (2015-16).
Of those nine, Janikowski won the award twice and four others won it once. No kicker has ever been a finalist three times. Barring injury, Carlson is an automatic choice. Just like his kicking.
“It would mean I had a really good year,” he pointed out. “But at the end of the day, those awards are kind of like the cherry on top. I’m more worried about having a good season and helping my team however I can. I would love to kick 10,000 extra points this season and no field goals, but I just need to do my job once I’m called out there.”