After what he called a good spring, the coaches moved Carson from second-string to first-string middle linebacker for preseason practices. The move meant pushing redshirt junior Michael Mauti, a candidate for postseason accolades, back to strongside linebacker after he spent spring practices in the middle. Junior Gerald Hodges remains slated to start at weakside linebacker.
Mauti said he was fine with the move, especially considering he played the strong side last season. He had high praise for the 6-foot-3, 239-pound Carson, who was on the field for 152 snaps and played in every game as a reserve his freshman season.
"He's one of those guys where when he hits, the runner goes backwards," Mauti said. "He makes good reads and he's instinctive, finds the ball and makes tackles."
Carson was highly touted out of Southern Regional High School in Ocean County, N.J., where he broke the school record for tackles. He was a four-star recruit on both rivals.com and scout.com, which ranked him the seventh-best middle linebacker in his class.
He comes from a football family - his grandfather, Tom Higgins, played pro football with the Eagles in the 1950s. In high school, Carson was also a three-time state finalist in wrestling.
He said that he was attracted to Penn State's rich history of linebackers, and that watching former Nittany Lions Paul Posluszny, Dan Connor, and Sean Lee was one of the reasons he went to Penn State.
"[Carson] is an extremely tough kid," said Charles Donohue Sr., his coach at Southern Regional. "And he fits into that position in that defense. You go back in Penn State history and you look at a middle linebacker at Penn State and they all look the same. They all play the same. He certainly has the physical attributes to be there."
Carson also played running back in high school, which came in handy around this time last year. Last preseason, the coaching staff temporarily moved Carson to fullback as starters Michael Zordich and Joe Suhey were recovering from injuries. Carson played fullback for the first three games before returning to linebacker.
He played the final 10 games as a reserve linebacker, recording 12 tackles. He was on the field for 22 snaps in Penn State's Outback Bowl loss to Florida, in which he made three solo stops. He took advantage of spring practices and surprised people when he was penciled in as first string.
"Right now, I like the positions where everybody's at . . . because of the way we're playing and the way our line is playing," Gerald Hodges said.
With talented linebackers such as redshirt senior Nate Stupar and sophomore Khairi Fortt battling for starting jobs, there is no promise that the coaches won't move the linebackers around again. The stiff competition is part of playing at Linebacker U., and Carson knows that.
"I think I am doing well, and I think that I'm giving the coaches a lot of confidence in me," he said. "Hopefully I can just keep playing well and show them that they can rely on me on Saturdays."
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