Franklin College’s reputation for high-powered offenses in football is exhibited in the 10 All-Americans the program produced from 2007-13.
Such postseason acclaim was directed at three Grizzlies quarterbacks and two wide receivers. Two defensive stalwarts, a punter and a pair of offensive linemen comprised the remaining players.
Starting right guard Austin Carlton, a 6-foot-3, 290-pound junior, recently scored one for the big guys up front whose job it is to carve out running lanes while also keeping their signal-caller upright.
It is, according to those who know him best, a deserving tribute.
“Aside from just his strength and speed, Austin is a smart player,” said senior Joe Green, who is about to start his third consecutive season as coach Mike Leonard’s starting center.
“It’s comforting as a center to know he’s going to be there. Austin is committed in everything he does. You get out what you put into it, and he’s certainly put in the effort to be a great football player.”
Leonard admires not only the dependable force Carlton has worked hard to become on autumn Saturday afternoons but the quality of character he’s always had.
“Austin is one of those guys that makes you feel great about this generation of young people. He is ultra-polite, very smart and a fantastic teammate,” Leonard said. “But as his coach I’m happy that he can flip the switch and be a big, strong and intimidating mountain of a man in the trenches on game day.”
Not surprisingly, while growing up Carlton was always among the largest kids in his class, if not the largest — a most helpful resource when you’ve been forced to move as many times as Carlton had by the time he was 12 years old.
Would-be nuisances pestering the new kid walking the halls proved scarce.
Philadelphia-born Carlton relocated to Flint, Michigan, then 13 miles northwest to Flushing, Michigan, because of his father’s work with the railroad. This was followed by stops in Chaffee, Missouri, and back to Michigan to the small town of Clio.
Then, finally, it happened.
In the summer between sixth and seventh grades, Carlton’s family again packed up their belongings, this time moving to Evansville. The oldest of Michael and Billie Carlton’s three children said he was in a different school every year of his elementary school experience.
“It was rough not ever having roots. Once we got to Evansville, my mom was like, ‘This is it’,” Carlton remembers. “I was sick of moving. Packing things into boxes, and then unpacking boxes ... it’s just as bad.”
The family stayed put, with Carlton going on to thrive athletically at Evansville Reitz High School.
As a sophomore, Carlton started at right tackle for Reitz as it captured the Class 4A state football title with its 23-9 downing of Lowell at Lucas Oil Stadium. In that perfect 15-0 season, the Panthers were every bit as dominant as their record indicated, outscoring six postseason opponents 218-60.
He would go on to secure numerous football honors, including Junior All-State in 2010 and All-State the following season. Carlton also was named All-Southern Indiana Athletic Conference his final two years at Reitz and Academic All-City following his sophomore, junior and senior campaigns.
Recruited by Franklin College as a right tackle, Carlton switched to right guard as a freshman. He took part in five Franklin College games in 2012 before truly blossoming last season, when he was named All-North Region by D3football.com and first-team All-Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference.
Such honors, flattering as they may be, don’t swell Carlton’s ego. He found out early in the summer he had been listed preseason second-team All-American by Lindy’s Sports, a respected Birmingham, Alabama-based magazine.
“Honestly, it wasn’t even in the back of my mind. The personal stuff, in my opinion, is secondary. I was brought up that football is a team game,” he said. “I guess the biggest thing for me is (being named All-American) just makes me want to work harder to maintain that.”
This is the beginning of Carlton’s third year on the Franklin College campus after being in the Reitz school system the six years prior.
At 20, it’s almost as if he’s finally settling down.
“I would say the biggest positive of moving around so much as a kid is just being able to adapt to a new environment,” Carlton said. “I got to be a pro at it.”