A Tiger’s Tale

Langworthy: ‘There Aren’t Too Many Like Stephen’

Kameron Milne of Jamestown, seen in this 2014 photo, shows off an autograph he received from Stephen Carlson. Photo courtesy of Jesse Milne

At about the 15-minute mark of a podcast posted on ESPN.com devoted to this weekend’s National Football League draft, Mel Kiper Jr. offered this assessment of Princeton’s Stephen Carlson.

“I’m going to give the Ivy League some love, because they still play some decent football in the Ivy League,” said Kiper, who has provided analysis for ESPN’s annual coverage of the draft for the last 35 years.

Kiper added: “(Wide receiver) Jesper Horsted and Stephen Carlson are two players I saw during the year. … Carlson got my attention at tight end. Both of these kids have a chance, I think, as a late-rounder (or) priority undrafted free agent. One of those Princeton Tigers will make a team, and maybe both will.”

Several seconds of dead air followed.

Finally, Todd McShay, another football analyst, piped up: “Who didn’t you highlight this fall on ESPN.com?”

Stephen Carlson finished his senior year at Princeton University with 51 receptions for 683 yards and five touchdowns as the Tigers went unbeaten and won the Ivy League championship. For his career, he recorded 125 catches for 1,632 yards and 16 TDs. P-J file photo by Tim Frank

“I was spanning the globe,” Kiper retorted.

Appropriate response, I thought, because one would likely have to go to the ends of the earth to find another young man quite like Carlson.

The fact the Jamestown native could be with an NFL team in a few days is merely a bonus.

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Jesse Milne of Jamestown has two sons, Kameron and Karson, who are now both in middle school.

On Nov. 9, 2014, two days after Jamestown High School won the Section VI Class AA football championship at Ralph Wilson Stadium in a season that culminated in a New York State Public High School Athletic Association title, the Milnes saw Carlson at Holy Apostles Parish, Ss Peter & Paul Catholic Church.

Carlson, 17 at the time, was a Sunday School teacher there.

“(My boys) went up to him and asked for his autograph,” Jesse said. “He was shocked and said, ‘This is the first time I’ve been asked this before.'”

A friendship was forged.

“They felt like an NFL star had signed it for them,” Jesse said. “They would get excited when his college games were on TV. Now that they are in middle school and active in sports, they want to be like him, on and off the field.”

Not a bad role model to emulate, boys.

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Carlson, who was a wide receiver at Princeton, finished his senior year with 51 receptions for 683 yards and five touchdowns as the Tigers went unbeaten and won the Ivy League championship. For his career, he recorded 125 catches for 1,632 yards and 16 TDs. In his final collegiate game at Powers Field at Princeton Stadium, Carlson caught eight passes for 79 yards as nearly two dozen family and friends, including members of the JHS football coaching staff, watched from the stands.

Tom Langworthy will never forget it.

“I specifically did not reach out to him (in the days leading up to the game), because I didn’t want to put any more tasks on his plate for the week, due to the game, not to mention his coursework at Princeton,” the Red Raiders’ head coach said. “Nevertheless, Stephen took the time to arrange for complimentary tickets for our coaches.”

But that was only the prelude to a weekend that Langworthy won’t ever forget.

“After this historic victory, the culmination of the season and the Princeton experience, and the end of the careers of most of the seniors, Stephen spent time with all of the visitors who came to see him,” Langworthy said. “This included thanking everyone, posing for pictures with adults and children, and even going out to eat with everyone following the game. A number of his close Jamestown friends were there, too, so I think it was a party of 23.”

The next morning, Langworthy said, Carlson gave JHS assistant coach Richie Joly and his family, including former JHS assistant coach Joe DiMaio, a campus tour.

“We all understood how important the game was, and it would (have) been understandable if he just wanted to hang out and celebrate with his teammates,” Langworthy said. “But for him to spend his time, take photos, talk, have dinner and give a tour of Princeton, there aren’t many college students who would be willing and able to give a tour on a Sunday morning following one of the biggest achievements of his football career.

“But, then again, there aren’t too many people like Stephen.”

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Ben Drake can recite — chapter and verse — Carlson’s accomplishments, but the JHS director of athletics and varsity basketball coach believes that what sets the 22-year-old apart is the kind of person he is.

“He just has impeccable character,” Drake said. “Every person who comes in contact with Stephen comes away impressed with his demeanor and humility.”

So it’s not coincidental that Carlson’s name comes up frequently when Drake talks with his current student-athletes “as the type of player that they should strive to be.”

“He was tough, hard working and very coachable while playing with complete class at all times,” Drake said. “I have had the privilege of coaching some gifted athletes who were exceptional people over the years and Stephen is at the very top of the list.”

Drake continued: “I talk to my players about being a ‘one-percenter,’ someone who sets themselves apart from others with their character and work ethic. Well, Stephen Carlson is more like a ‘.001-percenter.’ There’s just not many young men like him in this day and age. We are all pulling for him to continue his football career at the professional level, but whatever happens I know that he is destined for excellence due to his strong foundation and qualities that make him the person he is.”

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Cameron Hurst will graduate in December from St. Bonaventure University with bachelor’s degrees in journalism and music.

When he was student at JHS, he chronicled the successes of the Red Raiders’ football and basketball teams for his online blog, “The Rowdy Raider.” Not surprisingly, Carlson was featured prominently.

“I have to say that I owe at least a small part of my young career to Steve,” Hurst said. “Simply put, “The Rowdy Raider” could not have existed if there wasn’t such excitement and talent on those JHS teams of 2012-2015.”

In the run-up to the 2014 football season, Hurst texted Carlson to see if he would sit down for an interview with teammates Zack Panebianco and Ben Larson.

“The story on those three … was picked up by The Post-Journal and was my first professional byline. As a journalist, interviewing peers or people your age is always tough, but Steve was always so easy to (talk to). There was just common courtesy, and it was exactly the way I had been advised to conduct an interview: treat it as a conversation.”

With Carlson, there always seems to be a neat story to tell.

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Chris Carlson is four years older than his soon-to-be Princeton graduate brother.

As proud as he is of his younger sibling’s accomplishments on the field, Chris is even prouder of what his bro does off the field.

“Of course, I can always answer some questions regarding Steve,” he said. “I like the character/behind-the-scenes questions.”

There are plenty.

Chris, who is getting his master’s degree in public health at Dartmouth College and will start a student internship next week at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, listed them as follows:

¯ Special Olympics: “This is something he has done since his Jamestown days,” Chris said. ” … He continued helping those with special needs in college. He has served as a coach for teams in the Special Olympics basketball tournament at Princeton, helping less physically- or intellectually-gifted athletes to perform their best and, most importantly, have fun.”

¯ “TruckFest” at Princeton: “This is a yearly community event on campus, filled with food trucks and entertainment where the effort is to raise money to combat food insecurity in the Princeton area,” Chris said. “Steve has been a disc jockey, playing some great tunes as a DJ and pumping up the crowd in attendance. His goal is to keep people around and entertained, and they will buy more food and donate to a good cause.”

¯ “Weapons of Mass Construction: “This is community service through the Princeton Varsity Club,” Chris said, “where undergraduate student-athletes volunteer their time to fix up local green spaces and plant gardens.”

Carlson knows a little about staying grounded.

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Kiper, the NFL draft analyst, has Carlson rated 24th among the 35 draft-eligible tight ends on his board, sitting between No. 23 Donald Parham of Stetson and No. 25 Tyler Petite of USC.

Will that mean a call from an NFL team this weekend?

“Stephen helped himself by coming in today at 240, about 12 pounds more than he weighed at the end of the year,” Princeton head coach Bob Surace said after Carlson’s Princeton Pro Day last month. ” I think his running tests were good, too, for a team looking at him as an H-back. For that, they will want a guy weighing 245, running a 4.7, and never dropping a ball. And we know Stephen will not drop the ball.”

As the testimonies above confirm, Carlson has never “dropped the ball” in any area of his life, so it’s a good bet, on the biggest of weekends, he’s got a tighter grip on that than just about anyone in the draft.

Langworthy said it once already, but it bears repeating: “There aren’t too many people like Stephen.”