Sky’s the limit
Freshman trying to get THS back on radar
Before practice every day, he carried water bottles to the field and made sure the tackling pads were properly positioned.
After practice every day, he stored the tackling pads so they were ready for the next day of football practice.
If this sounds unheard of for a starting quarterback at the varsity level, that's just fine with Tonganoxie High's Jeremy Carlisle. All freshmen are required to do it.
As a freshman transfer student from Class 3A Baxter Springs, this is what was put on Carlisle's plate this season: Three out of the last four years, Tonganoxie has won the Kaw Valley League title.
That coach over there, Mark Elston? He hasn't had a losing season in the seven years he's coached at THS. Oh, and the team went 8-2 last year. Have at it, kid.
After a 1-8 season, Elston had his first losing season at Tonganoxie. The team missed the playoffs. Injuries and graduated starters from last year forced Tonganoxie to look to the future this season and play several freshmen and sophomores regularly.
If KVL teams haven't noticed Carlisle yet, they will before too long. Carlisle, even as a freshman, was one of Tonganoxie's best players on offense and defense. How he'll play in his sophomore, junior and senior campaigns is relatively unknown, but to think he has three years left as a quarterback after rushing for 638 yards and five touchdowns is relatively scary.
Confidence? Not a problem for this freshman.
"By my senior year, we're going to have a district championship," Carlisle said.
Practice makes progress
Carlisle's first start of his high school career was rough. On Aug. 31, the freshman rushed 10 times for 15 yards, and was 2-for-5 for 29 yards, a touchdown and an interception at Lansing.
Fast forward to Oct. 12, a game against the district-champion Perry-Lecompton Kaws. Carlisle rushed for 102 yards and a score, and passed for 100 yards and another score.
"The first couple of weeks, things were going 1,000 miles per hour at him," Elston said. "He started learning coverages and got more confident back there."
Carlisle played running back in middle school at Baxter Springs. He possesses speed and is fearless running the football. He rarely misses extra yardage by stepping out of bounds. He welcomes contact.
"He's used to playing running back, where he might only have to make one read to cut the ball," Elston said. "At quarterback, you have to find out what the defense is doing first, then techniques, then who's responsible for what coverage, both run and pass. It takes most guys until their junior year before they're capable of doing all that processing before the snap. When you're a running back, most of your process comes during the play instead of the pre-snap."
Not the typical pocket passer
Carlisle is a work in progress with respect to throwing the ball. He carries one of his three footballs with him virtually everywhere. Elston has noticed progress.
"He couldn't throw it 10 yards in the summer when we worked on 7-on-7 stuff," Elston said. "But he worked and worked. His biggest deal on pass plays is once he learns that just because it's called a pass play, that doesn't mean he has to throw it. That's why we try to roll him to outside. It gives him the option to run as well. It will force defenses into, 'Do I cover the quarterback or the wide receiver?'"
Carlisle threw seven interceptions this season and said one of his main focuses for next season would be to commit fewer turnovers.
"I was concentrating on so many things," Carlisle said. "I was over-thinking the game."
Coming into this season, it was a tossup as to who would call plays under center for the Chieftains. Next year, the likelihood of a quarterback controversy is slim.
"We've always liked to have our speediest, shiftiest, best ball-carrier as our quarterback," Elston said. "If they can throw, fantastic. We made the determination that (Carlisle) was one of our faster kids back there, and he needs the ball in his hands because he can make things happen."
Toward the end of the season, the Chieftains ran more plays in the shotgun formation. At the beginning of the season, Carlisle was having trouble with the depth of his drop-back from under center. As a result, the 5-foot-8 Carlisle was too close to his offensive line and couldn't see over it to make throws.
"I think next year and the years to come, we're going to have a lot more shotgun," Carlisle said.
Quarterback on defense, too
Defensively, Carlisle started the last two games at safety. He'll likely play both sides of the ball next year. Proof of Carlisle not being afraid of contact: He said he liked playing defense better because it gave him the chance to hit people.
"I just have to run into guys' legs," Carlisle said. "Just because I'm going so fast, they'll fall down."
Admiration of a champion
The No. 7 that Carlisle wears on the front and back of his jersey serves a purpose.
"It's because of John Elway, actually," Carlisle said of the former Denver Broncos quarterback and two-time Super Bowl champion. "He's, in my opinion, the greatest quarterback to ever play. It's just how he handled himself in the clutch that was huge."
Carlisle became a Broncos fan around age 6 when he asked his father, THS principal Jamie Carlisle, what team he liked the most. After watching a few Denver games with his father, Carlisle became hooked.
Carlisle is outnumbered by his friends, being a Denver fan living roughly 40 miles away from Arrowhead Stadium, home of the division rival Kansas City Chiefs.
"Pretty much," Carlisle said, laughing. "I take a lot of heat for it."
Carlisle learned a lot his freshman year. The most important lesson?
"Don't get discouraged," Carlisle said. "I knew this year wasn't going to be the best year I'll ever have. I'm just looking forward to next year."