POULSBO — Several years ago, when Ben Carlsen was a sparkplug defender for the North Kitsap High School football team, he snagged an interception and saw the end zone waiting for him like an unopened birthday present.
When Carlsen’s path was blocked by a defender, he didn’t attempt the nimble moves of a running back, or the swiveling jukes of a wide receiver. He lowered his pads and rocked into the defender.
Carlsen didn’t reach the end zone, but the play made an impression on someone other than the defender he rattled — his younger brother Chris, now the middle linebacker for the North Kitsap team that will reach the playoffs later this week.
“Instead of trying to juke or run away, he just went over him,” said Chris. “I remember that.”
Carlsen is the fourth Carlsen brother to play North Kitsap High School football, and as one of the top defenders in the Narrows League Bridge Division, it’s safe to say he learned more than one lesson from his talented brothers.
He grew up watching Ben, a linebacker remembered for his toughness; Jeff, an All-League quarterback who later went to the University of Washington on a baseball scholarship; and Clary, who played safety and quarterback and received a scholarship to Division I University of Idaho.
With his performance over the last three years, Chris will also have a few bragging rights at family gatherings. As an offensive tackle, he is a key member of the offensive line that has helped running back James Smith and quarterback Jared Prince combine for 21 touchdowns; as a middle linebacker, he leads the league in tackles (81 through Nov. 26) and earlier this year, he recorded 19 tackles in one game.
“His motor runs pretty hot,” said North Kitsap head coach Jerry Parrish.
Although Carlsen has learned much from coaches and teammates, he also hands off credit to his older brothers.
“You try to live up to them, and you also try to learn from them,” he said.
He remembers watching Jeff standing facemask-to-facemask with teammates, using his leadership to exhort or encourage them.
“If someone didn’t do their assignment well, he’d get in their face and explain that,” Chris remembers.
Earlier this year, as the Vikings were minutes away from a potentially playoff-clinching game against the Central Kitsap Cougars, he got his own chance to do some explaining.
Carlsen stood up and told his teammates what the game meant to him, and to them.
“I said all the practice doesn’t mean anything if we don’t get it done on the field,” Carlsen said.
The Vikings won the game 21-18 on a drive in the tail end of the fourth quarter.
One of the key defensive plays — besides the game-ending interception by cornerback Jeremiah Doehne — was a tipped pass by Carlsen.
Carlsen also learned about football from his older brother Clary, saying that he was a fierce competitor who led by the example he set on the field.
Parrish said that the youngest Carlsen is similar, whether he’s putting in extra work during the week, running through drills in double-time, or pursuing opponents on Friday nights.
“He doesn’t have a second gear,” Parrish said. “He’s in high gear all the time.”
Last month, Carlsen was lurking in the flats in a game against Port Angeles, and when quarterback David Martin fired a pass, Carlsen snagged it. He was 19 yards away from the end zone.
“I had one guy to beat,” Carlsen said later. “And I didn’t try to juke him.”
Instead, the Vikings linebacker lowered his shoulders and rumbled into the end zone.
He ran in a straight line, just like a Carlsen should.