From ball boy to NCAA Division I recruit, John Carroll has very much grown up under the roof of St. Francis High football.
Friedman Field has been a playground and a proving ground, as the Golden Knights have gone from being his heroes to his teammates.
“John’s been a water boy and ball boy,” St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds says. “He’s grown up on our sidelines basically.”
Carroll’s days as a Golden Knight very much began when he was in fifth grade.
That’s when he first began playing tackle football.
“That’s when I fell in love with it,” Carroll says of playing football. “It was an unreal experience putting on the pads.”
It was also the first season in which Carroll was a ball boy on the sidelines for St. Francis.
“I knew I wanted to go to St. Francis ever since fifth grade,” Carroll says. “I think it was just always a part of me.”
As the 2014 season beckons, Carroll enters his senior season. He’ll be a third-year starter at tight end for the Golden Knights, while adding middle linebacker and team captain to his resume. On offense, he’s likely to line up at fullback, H-back and split out off the line, as well.
“We’re looking for some incredible things from him this season,” Bonds says.
Following a sophomore season in which he had 39 catches for 414 yards and 479 yards, Carroll turned in a pretty incredible junior campaign. Earning All-Area, All-CIF and All-Mission League accolades, Carroll was vital in the Golden Knights’ 10-win, CIF-Southern Section semifinal season, as he pulled in 49 catches for 694 yards and seven scores, while doubling as an outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid who tallied 25 tackles, with seven for a loss and four sacks.
Carroll’s play and potential has garnered him a scholarship offer from UNLV and interest from other Division I schools. For the time being, though, statistics and individual exploits are on the back burner for the 6-foot-3, 220-pound 17-year-old.
“I could care less about my catches or touchdowns or getting my name in the paper, I just want to win,” Carroll says. “That’s really the main goal in my head.”
Indeed, Carroll has his sights set on a successful season with St. Francis concluding a long and memorable journey with the brown and gold.
With his brother Patrick a mainstay on the St. Francis offensive line for three seasons and his dad, Pat, a longtime Golden Knights assistant, John began his days along the St. Francis sideline, hustling balls on and off the field.
“You’re having fun with it and then you look up to all the guys,” John says of being a ball boy. “I used to go up to them and high-five them and they treated me so well. You say, ‘I can’t wait to be in the same position.’”
Carroll’s fifth-grade year happened to be the sophomore season of Dietrich Riley, who would go on to become arguably one of the area’s greatest players of all-time, claiming All-Area Football Player of the Year honors three straight years. Riley, who donned a No. 4 jersey, went on to play at UCLA before his career was cut short due to injury.
Other standouts such as quarterback Justin Posthuma, his brother Patrick, who’s now playing at UNLV, Chris Cabrera, Ryan McAleenan and Rian Younker provided plenty of highlights.
“It was special, those years were all so special,” John says.
Unlike big brother Patrick, though, John wasn’t destined to be an offensive lineman.
“I think John made a decision at an early age that he wanted to touch the ball,” Bonds says. “I think some of that came from watching Dietrich Riley, too. He really looked up to Dietrich. He wore No. 4 as a freshman.”
There was at least one instance in which it wasn’t all high-fives and smiles, though, as Bonds, recalls.
As Bonds tells it, St. Francis was playing Rio Mesa on the road and John was one of the few, if not only, ball boys who had shown up for the game.
“John, I think was the only guy, so he was running his tail off,” Bonds says.
But after one play, there was no ball and no ball boy delivering it, to which the head official complained to Bonds. Thus, Bonds began yelling for John.
“He was on the complete other end of the field,” Bonds says. “I don’t know what he was doing, probably goofing off talking to Dietrich.”
After John sprinted down the sideline, Bonds gave him an earful.
“I’m reading him the riot act,” Bonds says. “After that game he quit. He didn’t want to be a ball boy anymore.”
The next game, there was no John on the sideline. Instead, he went up into the stands to watch his brother and all his favorite Golden Knights from afar, sitting next to his mom, Liz.
After a talk, Bonds got John back on the sidelines and he’s never strayed too far since.
In his first season on varsity as a sophomore, Carroll was strictly an offensive player with his pass-catching ability his strength. But he’s steadily matured into an all-around talent on the offensive side of the ball.
“His hands and his size is I think what says he’s gonna be a great tight end,” Bonds says. “I think his blocking has gotten better and better. You don’t have the strength as a 10th grader that you do when you get older. He’s gotten stronger and better and better.
“As a senior, he’s become a really good blocker. He’s really become a complete player on offense.”
During his junior year, Carroll took on the added responsibility of starting on defense, as well.
With a vacancy at middle linebacker heading into his senior season, Carroll transferred positions, moving back to the spot he manned in freshman ball.
“He’s really worked hard to master that position,” says Bonds, adding that Carroll’s worked arduously on getting down the reads for a middle linebacker, such as pulling guards, down blocks and dropping back into pass coverage. “He’s got a lot on his plate.”
But the biggest change for Carroll heading into his senior season is taking on the role of being one of the team’s four Golden Knights or team captains. He’s joined by fellow seniors Andy Cesta, Brodie Felkel and Mason Williams.
“I’m not really a talker, so I’ve kind of had to go out of my comfort zone,” Carroll says. “That’s mostly what’s challenged me.”
While speaking out might not come natural to him, Carroll has taken on the task and his leadership has begun to show.
“I’ve noticed he has been stepping up a lot more and talking more. … He’s more of a leader by example, though,” says senior lineman Cody Felan, who’s known Carroll since they started playing football in Pop Warner. “[Being a Golden Knight is] a huge part of our team, it always has been. But this year, Brodie, John, Andy Cesta and Mason have all done a really good job of stepping up and being leaders.”
Like anything else, Carroll has gone to work as it relates to becoming a better captain.
So, with Carroll venturing from his comfort zone, he sought the advice of captains before him, whether they were past teammates or some of the guys he’d been giving out high-fives to in his days of ball boy’s past.
“I’ve talked to a lot of the old Golden Knights,” Carroll says, mentioning some of his teammates last year in Ty Gangi and Kevin Maloof, as well as his brother, Riley and Posthuma.
Carroll said Posthuma, in particular, was the one he’s talked to the most, looking to those that led before him.
“I know he takes that role very seriously,” Bonds says. “I could see a change from him from the time he was named a Golden Knight.”
So, like all those who captained the teams Carroll grew up watching and rooting along, he will now lead this St. Francis squad in its quest to win an Angelus League title and claim a CIF Southern Section Southeast Division championship.
Though they’re big cleats to fill, it’s really not a novel concept for Carroll. After all, he has already gone from the kid on the sidelines looking for a high-five to the Golden Knight on the field who the newest bunch of ball boys is excited to congratulate.
“I try to treat them the same way, too. I think that’s a special thing that you can make them smile and kind of give them that awe kind of moment,” Carroll says. “Maybe then one day they’ll want to come play at St. Francis.”