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Josh Carlson: the grand return to Arizona

Taylyn Hadley Avatar
September 15, 2023
© Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Being able to come back home to Arizona was a dream come true for Gilbert High School Graduate Josh Carlson. When teenage Carlson was playing for the Gilbert Tigers, he never dreamed that football would take off for him in the way that it has.

Now a graduate student at Arizona State University, the talented punter is not just pursuing a masters degree, but pursuing an athletic career.

Carlson describes himself as “not the best punter in high school,” despite receiving offers from small Division I colleges and a scholarship offer from Utah Tech (formerly known as Dixie State University), a Division II college at the time. 

“Coming back home was huge (and) being able to come back and play for the team (that) I’ve always grown up watching, it was a dream of mine to be a player here.” Carlson said. “(Out of) high school I didn’t  have that opportunity, so I just kept working.”

The start of an unforeseen journey

After spending one year at Dixie State where Carlson received First Team All-American Honors and averaged 45.7 yards per punt, he was lucky enough to be able to transfer to New Mexico state and play for the Division I team. 

During his time with the Aggies, Carlson earned a Phil Steele Preseason All-Independent Second Team honors. He averaged an impressive stat line of 41.1 yards on 70 punts, had a career-long punt of 67 yards and held 16 punts inside of the 20-yard line.

At the conclusion of a lengthy stay in Las Cruces due to Covid-19, Carlson graduated from New Mexico State with a degree in communications. Already exceeding his expectations of what he could accomplish on the field, Carlson did not want to end his football career just yet. 

Then along came an opportunity to earn his masters degree in organizational leadership at Arizona State University and start at punter for the Sun Devils with his last year of eligibility. 

“Coach Ragle (is) a great coach, so I just kind of wanted to play for that guy and coach Dillingham and all the coaches here,” Carlson said. “When they were recruiting me (they) made it feel like I’m at home, which I am at home.”

Never did he envision that after attending two colleges and collecting five years of university experience under his belt that he would return to the place that he calls home to pursue what he left home to chase. 

Before football became his chosen path

Growing up, Carlson was big into the X-Games and loved to skateboard. He dabbled in flag football while focusing on soccer and basketball, but never placed any emphasis on pursuing the life of a football player. 

It was not until an experience in one of his P.E. classes that he realized his life of pursuing soccer was leading him to fall in love with the sport of football.

“When I got to high school (I was) just in P.E…and they asked if anybody knew how to kick a ball,” Carlson said. “I’m like, ‘well, I’ve played soccer, so I’ll give it a try.’”

Then began the journey of his unpredicted football career. Starting off as a field-goal kicker for the Gilbert Tigers, Carlson did not move into the role of punting until his senior year with the squad.

For someone with a collegiate track record like Carlson who held a Division II scholarship during his Freshman year and has made two Division I roster appearances, it was quite shocking to hear that he did not start playing football until high school. 

“I never envisioned myself being a college football player,” Carlson said. “When I first got to high school, I didn’t even picture it. It’s kind of crazy how it all worked out.”

Although a long time fan of ASU football, Carlson never bothered to imagine a scenario where he would step onto the field at Mountain America Stadium, laced up from head to toe in Sun Devils gear. 

Now, he is placing footsteps in the exact same places that he had seen so many other greats before him when he would commonly attend ASU games with his family growing up.

“It was awesome,” Carlson said. “ I mean, it’s just surreal. (It’s) a great feeling just to know that I’ve made it this far.”

On top of being a fan of the Sun Devils, Carlson of course loved the Cardinals growing up. He already has scouted out how optimal State Farm Stadium would be for him as a player. 

“They have the indoor field and everything,” Carlson said. “It’s great kicking in doors,”

Besides the Cardinals, Carlson grew up a big fan of the Miami Dolphins. In highschool when he was still new to the field goal game, he studied old film of Miami’s placekicker, Dan Carpenter.

What lies ahead for the punter from Gilbert

What is next for the graduate student? He is still working out those details. 

He would like to earn another All-American nod, this time in Division I. He also wants to earn a spot on the All-Conference team, but more than anything, he wants to look back on his time with ASU and be proud of what he accomplished. 

“Those (awards) would be great, but just to be comfortable with how I did throughout the season (and) to be happy with how I did, that’s just kind of my goal,” Carlson said.

As for after his time with the Sun Devils, that all depends on how this year goes for him. He would love to stay in Gilbert where he grew up, but most of his family has now relocated to  Montana. He also loved the quietness of Las Cruces, a harsh contrast to his life in downtown Tempe right now.

More importantly, he would love to see how far football can take him and plan his long-term residency around that. 

“I’ll see after football where life takes me,” Carlson said. “Hopefully, football keeps working out but (I) can’t fully rely on that. There’s life after football too (but I’m) definitely going to see where football takes me.”

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