It hasn't been all that long since Patrick Carroll first pulled on a pair of shoulder pads and strapped up a helmet.
It wasn't that long ago that he really started blocking people. Or better yet, really started hitting people. Or, quite frankly, truly began dominating the opposition.
As a freshman at St. Francis High, the Golden Knights man-child began his first days playing tackle football.
"It was difficult, cause it was the first time really hitting someone," Carroll recalls. "Once I got used to it, it was easy, it was like I was doing it my whole life and I loved it."
Prior to his days at St. Francis, Carroll was relegated to playing flag football.
"I've always been a big kid," he says.
And his size, combined with his youth — he only just recently turned 17 as a senior — prevented him from making the weight restrictions for his age group in Pop Warner football. It certainly didn't hinder his growth as a football player, however.
A varsity starter as a sophomore, Carroll would pick up All-Mission League and All-Area honors, before duplicating the feats and adding All-CIF accolades as a junior. Now, the 6-foot-5 1/2, 280-pound people mover disguised as an affable and well-expressed St. Francis student-athlete is set to embark upon a senior season many are prognosticating to be one to remember.
"He's really gonna explode this season," senior linebacker and running back Michael Melnick predicts. "This is his last year, he's gonna make an impact."
Considered one of the finest offensive linemen in the region, Carroll has drawn major notice from major Division I colleges following his sophomore year and now hopes to bring it all together, as the left tackle has high hopes for himself and, above and beyond, the Golden Knights.
"That camaraderie and that brotherhood, it's amazing. These guys on my team are like my brothers," says Carroll while watching his younger brother take part in a Pop Warner practice. "It's fun to see my name in the paper. My family likes it. But I want to win. I'd rather win than have my name in the paper."
More than any other position on the football field, offensive linemen are used to basking in the spotlight less than anyone else. But the skills of Carroll — and the college notice he's garnered — and the four "brothers" that line up directly to his right have drawn their share of attention this preseason.
Entering a 2010 campaign in which the Golden Knights have every intention of duplicating or surpassing the 9-3 showing of a year prior, it's a rather unanimous notion that the biggest strength for St. Francis lies within the team's front five.
"The success of the team is probably gonna revolve on how that unit does," Golden Knights Coach Jim Bonds says. "Having Patrick there to enforce all that is huge. He's gonna be huge, he makes all those calls, he keeps everybody in check."
Opposite Carroll at right tackle is senior Andrew Fujimoto, with junior Zack George at right guard, junior Kristion Grbavac at center and junior Joe Marrone lining up next to Carroll at left guard. Only George is new to the starting lineup, as the continuity, experience, size and talent of the group has many believing it's poised to dominate.
"I wouldn't trade any of those guys for any other team," senior quarterback Brett Nelson proclaims. "They're the best."
The unquestioned leader is Carroll, however, as he's one of three of the team's Golden Knights — team captains — along with Melnick and Nelson and, captain tag or not, is the director in the trenches.
"He leads by example," Melnick says. "He's definitely not the loudest guy out there, but you'll notice him cause he works his butt off."
But it's more than just how he works, it's how he thinks, learns and teaches.
"He's kind of like a player-coach," Grbavac says. "He makes a lot of calls on the line.
"He's just a mentally smart football player. He sees things the other linemen can't see."
Carroll prides himself on knowing the ins and outs of the game. Evidence enough is that he not only knows his assignment every play, but the assignment of every other player on the line.
"I pride myself on being a smart football player," Carroll says. "You gotta know it's important to drive the guy off the ball, but you have to know who you're gonna drive."
To hear Bonds describe Carroll, the latter is a "football junkie," never tiring of watching, playing or studying the sport. It's paid off in the form of a complete package, as he possesses the brain to go with the brawn.
"He's got probably the highest football IQ of any lineman I've ever had," Bonds says. "He gets it."
And he uses it to help those next to him and, in turn, the team as a whole.
"He kinda took me under his wing," says Grbavac, a starting guard last season as a sophomore before transferring to center this season. "He kinda let us know what to expect."
It's all part of Carroll's role as a leader and, more importantly to him, as part of the aforementioned brotherhood within St. Francis.
"He cares about the team more than himself," Melnick says.
While the intangibles are clearly there and arguably a prevalent reason as to why Carroll is seen as a special talent, intelligent as he is, it's unlikely the attention from the media, college scouts and even his teammates and coaches would be there if he couldn't flat out dominate as he does.
A terrific asset opening holes on run plays, Carroll's truly outstanding as a pass blocker.
"He sets the tone at practice. I don't think I've seen him lose since the end of last year," Grbavac says. "Pass blocking's definitely his strength, but he's a great run blocker, too. He's getting scouted by D1 colleges for a reason.
"I'd say his first step is what gets people. Once he has you, there's not too many places to go."
Currently, there are plenty of places Carroll's hoping to go and plenty that have shown interest.
It's interest that began after his sophomore season and that was solidified during a simply stellar junior campaign.
Consequently, it was after his sophomore year that the recruiting circus for Dietrich Riley, St. Francis' recently graduated standout and one of UCLA's newest blue chip prospects, began to take shape. Big-time coaches from big-time schools descended upon St. Francis to see Riley, but were also getting a glimpse of his teammates in the process.
"It was a who's who at the football games, that's why I love Dietrich," Carroll jokes. "It was a great way to get the looks."
The circumstances are even more impressive considering Carroll missed the final game of his sophomore year and much of the subsequent offseason due to a knee injury. Still, even without the benefit of all the weight training and conditioning in the offseason that he missed out on, Carroll returned and excelled.
"To miss all the time and come back and have the year he had," Bonds says, "there was no question in my mind he's a D1 player."
Carroll has since been to camps at the University of Arizona, Cal, UCLA, USC, San Diego State and Oregon State. For as long as he can recall, he's dreamed of playing football in college and now the chance is a reality.
"I definitely wanted to have it, I definitely wanted to be like Dietrich," he says. "I wanted to be that guy, I wanted to play football in college, that's always been my dream."
And thus it hasn't been all that long since Patrick Carroll first started hitting people or first began garnering postseason accolades and college attention. It likely won't be long until he'll go from playing under the Friday night lights at Friedman Field to the Saturday afternoons of NCAA Division I college ball, but beyond all the notoriety, praise and notice, he's still just the big kid who sees every game as a chance to punch the clock and do a job that he loves.
"It's also a workman's mentality. You've just gotta do your job," Carroll says. "You have to think about it that way, you have to get your job done. But at the same time, you have to have fun."