Carlson Ready For Next Step

Princeton University Senior And Jamestown Native To Work Out For NFL?Teams

Stephen Carlson (84) will work out for teams in the coming weeks with hopes of catching on in the NFL this summer. P-J file photo

Stephen Carlson found himself up to this eyeballs in schoolwork earlier this week. On Tuesday night, the Princeton University senior had a midterm exam in business ethics, followed on Wednesday by tests in agriculture & diet, and European history (1776 to the present).

“I think they went pretty well,” he confided to The Post-Journal when reached by cellphone late yesterday afternoon. “They usually turn out well.”

It’s been that kind of existence for the Jamestown native since he arrived on the New Jersey campus in August 2015.

“I don’t think I could have had it any better the last four years,” Carlson said.

If everything falls just right in the next month or so, however, he might need to amend that statement just a bit, because something big is on the horizon for the ecology and evolutionary biology major.

Oh, sure, he has a thesis to write that could be as many as 100 pages in length, and there is the matter of graduation the first Sunday in June. Heck, who wouldn’t want to have a diploma from one of the finest universities on the planet? But Carlson would like an opportunity that Princeton has prepared him for outside the classroom, too. He calls it a “leave-nothing-on-the-table” shot that only a small percentage of college students ever attain.

“My number-one goal is to go to the NFL and make it there,” he said, “but I know I’ll land on my feet if I don’t.”

No surprise there.

Carlson has always had his cleats planted firmly on the ground anyway.

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Carlson wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last month, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t on the radar of teams throughout the league. His production the last two years for Princeton coach Bob Surace has made it hard not to notice.

After not playing much at all for two years, Carlson burst on the scene as a junior wide receiver in 2017, when he caught 71 passes for 935 yards and 11 touchdowns. Last fall, he helped the unbeaten Tigers become the highest-scoring offense in Ivy League history, and the No. 2 scoring offense and No. 3 total offense in the nation. Along the way, Carlson recorded 51 receptions for 683 yards and five TDs, finishing his career ranked third all-time in TD catches (16), eighth in receiving yards (1,632), and 10th in receptions (125).

That production means that Carlson will have a chance to show his wares at several “pro days” in the coming weeks. The first one is scheduled at Princeton on March 26 when he and several teammates will be run through drills for scouts from throughout the NFL.

“That’s what we’ve been training for,” he said. “If we have bad times, it’s way tougher to go to the next level. If we have good times, we get a little more notice.”

That “notice” will continue on April 5 when Carlson has a local pro day with the New York Giants, followed by a similar workout with the Philadelphia Eagles at a time to be determined. Carlson is also hopeful of getting an invite from the New York Jets.

“After these pro days leading up to the draft, we plan on having individual visits where teams will come to Princeton and work us out,” Carlson said.

When that happens, the 2014 Post-Journal Player of the Year and first-team all-state selection will be doing so from a different position. In fact, since the Tigers’ season ended in November, Carlson has worked diligently on adding weight and strength as he transitions to tight end or H-back.

“I knew that would be a little bit difficult coming out of the season weighing 225 pounds, but now I’m up to 240, which is right about where I need to be,” he said. ” … At the beginning when I first started the program, I was building strength, building endurance and putting on weight. In the last month, it’s been a little bit of maintaining, making sure my body feels 100 percent.”

The added weight has not compromised Carlson’s speed — he said he’s been timed as low as 4.69 seconds in the 40-yard dash — and he’s increased his 225-pound bench press to as many 17 reps with a goal of 18 or 19.

Represented by agent Shane Costa from Pillar Sports Management of Buffalo, Carlson said he expected he would move to tight end eventually.

“I kind of knew going into (last) season that I was going to play a position like that, more of a tight end,” he said. “I think that helped me a lot, because it gave me experience blocking between the tackles, pulling, that kind of stuff. I also knew that if I wanted to play at the next level that’s pretty much what I needed to do, so it was great experience. … I just had to put on some weight.”

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Carlson was a late commit to Princeton. In fact, he didn’t announce his decision until February 2015 just about the time he and his JHS basketball teammates were on their way to another Section VI Class AA championship.

Carlson still credits his friends and family, along with Red Raiders football coach Tom Langworthy and basketball coach Ben Drake for encouraging him to pursue an Ivy League education.

“Once my freshman year came about I knew I just had to build on the same work ethic I was taught growing up, have the same attitude, have the same routine through high school athletics (that I learned) from Coach Drake and Coach Langworthy, to build on that with the mindset that they instilled.

“That’s pretty much what made me successful here, too. Not playing the first couple years, but staying the course, just doing my job, and that turned into something successful. Hopefully, I’ll keep it on the same path and, hopefully, that will turn into something more successful.”

While Carlson never grew up dreaming of playing in the NFL, he is excited about what is in front of him, even if he’s not drafted. Latching on with an NFL team as an undrafted free agent would be just fine, too. All he wants is a chance.

“Now that it’s a possibility,” he said, ” … why can’t it be me, you know?”

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