Daniel Carlson’s fabulous foot has taken him on a joyous journey, the next step of which comes Saturday at Broncos Stadium at Mile High. And the Minnesota Vikings kicker says he owes it all to God.
As a young athlete in Colorado Springs, he had his heart set on soccer. That changed suddenly in 2009 when Chris Coughlin, CEO of Glazier Clinics and a coach at The Classical Academy, approached Carlson at church and asked if he’d try a few kicks on the football field.
“Playing soccer was what I had always dreamed of,” Carlson said at his parents’ house in the Springs. “But by my junior year (at TCA), I had fallen in love with football. God had the better plan.
“Time and time again, I think I’m fine pursuing my own plans. But then everything completely changes, and I see that God’s plan is so much better than anything I could have ever dreamed up.”
At TCA, Carlson led the soccer team to the state finals three times while also setting state records kicking for the football team.
Then it was off to Auburn University, where he became the all-time leading scorer in SEC football history. This spring, he was drafted by the Vikings. And now he’ll be kicking for Minnesota in the team’s first preseason game Saturday.
All in the family
Hans and Jodie Carlson moved their three sons to Colorado Springs from Dallas in 1998. Hans, a professional tennis player, was born in Oskarshamn, Sweden. Jodie was a tomboy from tiny Trussville, Ala., and a national award-winning drill team high-stepper.
They met on a blind date at a University of Alabama football game. It was love at first sight, but it would take them a decade to complete school and military service and get married. Jodi has worked as a United Airlines flight attendant for 34 years.
All three sons are athletic. Nils, the oldest, has played professional soccer in Sweden, and Anders, the youngest, is following in Daniel’s footsteps as a kicker at Auburn.
“Nils was a goalkeeper, and he always made the other boys shoot at him all the time,” Hans said.
All that kicking paid off.
“In elementary school, kids called Daniel ‘Thunderfoot,’” Hans said.
The Carlsons are members of North Springs Alliance Church. Daniel prayed with his mom to receive Christ as his savior in the family kitchen when he was 10. He also attended youth events at New Life Church and Woodmen Valley Chapel.
In his senior year of high school, Daniel was named the top-ranked U.S. kicker at Kohl’s Kicking Academy Underclassmen Challenge. The college offers poured in.
“It was a crazy whirlwind,” he said. “I knew I was good in Colorado, but I was shocked I was that good nationally.”
Daniel said he chose Auburn because the coaching staff expressed interest in developing him as a person and a believer, not only as a player. But by the time he arrived for his first year as a redshirt freshman, that staff had left.
“God’s got a sense of humor,” he said. But, “everything turned out better than I ever could have imagined.”
At college, Daniel made his parents’ faith his own.
“They taught me what they believed,” he said. “They taught me how to act. They gave me a good foundation. Now it was time to make this my own.”
Although he doesn’t seek the spotlight, Daniel has accepted opportunities to share his Christian testimony. He spoke to an audience of thousands at Ignite, an Auburn evangelistic event.
“I did not look forward to standing in front of everyone and speaking,” he said, “but God put me in this position to share my testimony and his word. It’s very important for me to use the platform I have to share my faith.”
Daniel also met girlfriend Katherine at Auburn. They married in January.
Playing as worship
Daniel’s first season at Auburn ended in failure, as he missed a field-goal attempt in overtime at the Outback Bowl, resulting in a Wisconsin win.
It was a rare doink for Daniel, who left Auburn as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 480 points. He broke other records, too, including most consecutive successful point-after attempts with 198. And he earned honors for academics and community service.
Daniel said he’s enjoyed his time with the Vikings, even though practices start at 6 a.m. and end at 5 p.m.
“To play a sport that I love doing and that I feel called to do is the most fun thing I’ve ever been able to do,” he said. “And getting paid for it is great as well.”
As far as whether he will enter the season as Minnesota’s starter, Daniel is unsure. “There’s a lot of uncertainty,” he said. But he’s trusting God about that, too.
Getting to kick against the Denver Broncos in front of a home state crowd will be the latest in a long series of surprisingly good outcomes.
“It is such a cool, surreal experience to look back on all that God has given me,” he said. “Playing is my form of worship. It is how I glorify him. And all of this is so much better than I ever expected.”
His favorite Bible passage, Proverbs 3:5-6, conveys a similar message:
”Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”