Carlson, Kaneland set to take next step
Troyer Carlson didn't hesitate to answer how he can build on what was an eye-popping sophomore season.
It had nothing to do with individual stats.
"We went 5-5 last year. We want to do better than that," said Carlson, Kaneland's junior quarterback. "I just want to win. I want to get to the playoffs, make a run, maybe win conference, try to get better. I just want to win."
Indeed, for all of Carlson's success last year, 2021 was a so-so year by Kaneland's standards. The Knights went 5-4 during the regular season and lost to eventual Class 5A champion Fenwick in the first round of the playoffs. It was only the third time since 2009 that Kaneland didn't win at least six games in a nine-game regular season, and the first time the Knights lost their first-round playoff game since 2009.
But with honorable mention all-stater Carlson back to start his third varsity season, and well-stocked at the receiving corps, the arrow looks to be pointed upward.
Carlson and the Knights were in action recently in a 7-on-7 at Kaneland against the likes of Oswego, Burlington Central, Crystal Lake South and Mendota.
"We had our ups and downs last year, but in the back of the season we started to play pretty good," Carlson said. "We competed with a tough Morris team that won conference, we got better and we have a lot of returning guys. We had a lot of young guys last year. It's going to be exciting to see what we can do with a lot of guys returning."
It will be hard to top what Carlson did from a statistical sense.
In 10 games he completed 64% of his passes for 2,780 yards and threw for 36 touchdowns, directing a Kaneland offense that averaged 37.3 points per game during the regular season.
Carlson had the unique opportunity to start at quarterback as a freshman during the pandemic-shortened spring 2021 season. Now he is clearly in command of the Knights' huddle.
"I feel I know the system inside out now," he said. "It was pretty amazing coming in as a freshman and learning the system. We had the COVID season, six games, took a step, it was kind of mellow. I learned the offense that year, sophomore year started to learn the defenses and the ins and outs. This year I know where everybody should be. It's going to be pretty exciting to see what we can do."
All-state receiver Sam Gagne has graduated, but the cupboard is far from bare. Kaneland coach Pat Ryan and Carlson both spoke glowingly of a deep set of receivers, a group led by junior Aric Johnson.
A two-time all-conference receiver, the 6-foot, 185-pound Johnson caught 35 passes for 685 yards and nine TDs as a sophomore.
"He can make any catch. I just need him to get the ball in space, and he can do his thing. He'll take it 80 yards," Carlson said.
The connection apparently goes back a long way.
"Me and Troyer, we have been playing together since sixth grade," Johnson said. "The connection has been growing and growing and growing. Now it's in full form for all the coaches to see. I think we got something really good going."
Two-way standout Johnny Spallasso is another good receiver and deep-ball threat who averaged 21.9 yards per catch last year, with twins Tony DeBlasio and Dominick DeBlasio two other targets. Christian Duffing and Tyler Bradshaw, the latter a transfer back from Marmion, will fill the shoes of Corey Phillips at running back.
"I think we got a way more experienced team, a lot of returners, looking to have a way better record," Johnson said.
On the recruiting front, Johnson said he made game-day visits to both Iowa and Illinois last fall, and has been to camps this year at Miami (Ohio), Wisconsin and North Central. Carlson also went to those three camps and the Northwestern quarterback camp in June.
Carlson doesn't have any scholarship offers yet but looks forward to getting his name out there more with increased team success this fall.
"Junior year is always the biggest year," Carlson said. "If I can prove myself, win games and win the big game, I think that will help me in the future. Just got to get better every day and see what happens."