Former Litchfield High School student and football star John Carlson announced Tuesday he is retiring from the NFL. The tight end is leaving the game after one season with the Arizona Cardinals and seven total NFL seasons.
“After much thought and consideration, my wife Danielle and I know that this is the best decision for us,” Carlson said in a statement. “I was blessed to play seven seasons in the NFL for three tremendous organizations — the Cardinals, Vikings and Seahawks. I will always treasure the experiences and relationships made during that time but I’m also very excited about the next phase of my life and what’s ahead.”
A statement released by the Arizona Cardinals did not indicate a specific reason for Carlson’s decision to retire; Carlson’s 2013 season, his final with the Vikings, had been cut short due to his third reported concussion. The tight end appeared in all 16 of the Cardinals’ games in the 2014 season.
Carlson, who graduated from Litchfield High School in 2003, was in the second year of a two year, $4.65 million contract he had signed in 2014 with the Cardinals and was at top of the team’s depth chart at tight end.
Carlson’s finest two seasons came with the Seahawks in his first two years in the league: in 2008, he played in all 16 games and caught 55 passes for 627 yards and five touchdown, all of which led the team; in 2009, he played in every game and caught 51 passes for 574 yards and seven touchdowns, leading the Seahawks in the latter category.
‘Retiring on his terms’
Carlson’s father John Carlson, Litchfield High School teacher and coach, is happy that his son was able to choose how and when his career ended.
“I’m really — and I share this with my family — we’re very excited that he’s retiring on his terms, when he’s still healthy,” Carlson said. “We’re excited about that and we’re excited about a new chapter in his life.”
Coach Carlson said that John and his wife Danielle had spent plenty of time talking and praying about the decision and that, ultimately, the couple made their choice on their own terms.
“We’re very proud of them for that,” he said.
Though the Notre Dame grad dealt with injuries throughout his career, his father pointed out that he played much longer than the average professional football player.
“The average career is I think 3.5 years for a NFL player, so he doubled that, and he had a great career,” Carlson said. “Like any pro athlete, you have your ups and downs, but he had many more ups than downs.”
Though he doesn’t know what specifically the future holds for John, Coach Carlson thinks that his son will enjoy the process of discovering that.
“As far as his next chapter, I think he’ll take his time and enjoy the whole process,” Carlson said. “... Honestly, for the last 12 years he’s been told where to go, when to be there and how long to stay — it’s not all glamorous like people think. I think he’s just looking forward to having some time on his own and doing what he wants to do on his own terms.”
Known as a ‘humble’ athlete
Jon Johnson, a physical education teacher at Litchfield High School, coached football in the district for 21 years, including during Carlson’s tenure as a high school athlete. Johnson said Carlson was a tremendous athlete during his high school career, but also a humble and respectful player and teammate.
“John was a player who, of course, had special skills that were very, very rare. But not only the skills physically, but his mental approach to preparation and off-season training that’s hard to find in young people,” Johnson said. “He had that long-term mindset. He was just such a student of athletics and a student of the game.”
In high school, Carlson not only excelled at football, but also basketball and tennis, Johnson said.
“With all the gifts he had, he was humble and respective of the big picture of life and athletics and how it fit in there,” he said. “He was very fun to coach because he understood what needed to be done.”
Carlson broke many high school records in regards to his athletics, Johnson said, but never focused solely on breaking records.
“It was all about the team and making the team successful,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who teaches physical education alongside Carlson’s father at Litchfield High School, said he has kept track of John throughout his football career.
“I’m not only happy for John Jr., but I’m happy for the whole family, too,” Johnson said. “John’s had some injuries throughout the years and in that contact sport, you’re obviously concerned about his well-being. I’m just so happy and I wish him well.”
— Independent Review writer Jenny Berg contributed to this report.