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By Tim Owen Blue White Illustrated
Glenn Carson has seen the photographs. Fishing boats scattered like matchsticks. People plodding down Long Beach Boulevard, knee-deep in sand. Devastation wreaked upon the setting of his fondest childhood memories.
They have been difficult images for Carson to truly grasp. A native of Manahawkin, N.J., he grew up just seven miles from Long Beach Island, one of the areas that was hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy. He calls himself "a beach guy," and whether he was fishing its shores or surfing its waves - two of his favorite pastimes - Carson spent a large portion of his childhood enjoying LBI. So when he sees the pictures and hears the stories, Carson wishes there were more he could do to help out.
"My friend said it was a war zone because people were looting since they shut down the island," he said. "People were riding boats over there and just stealing. The marine police and stuff were there, but it was basically a desert because no one was there. Boats were washed up into other people's properties. It was just a mess."
Carson's family made it through OK, and he said their home was intact. He had friends, however, who weren't so lucky. One friend completely lost a home.
Due to Carson's football obligations at Penn State, he wasn't able to make it back home until the season's end. That bothered him, but with road trips scheduled to Purdue and Nebraska, there weren't many other choices. So, wearing No. 40, the same number he wore at Southern Regional High School, he took it to the football field and tried representing southeastern New Jersey the best he could.
In the two road games, he racked up 18 tackles, including one for a loss, and bolstered the middle of Penn State's defense, something he's been doing since he was named starting middle linebacker for the 2011 season. Ten games into his junior year, he ranked third on the team with 65 tackles, three of which were for losses. But linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden said much of his value doesn't show up in the stat columns.
"He loves to work," Vanderlinden said. "He's very prideful, extremely prideful of his performance - almost to a fault. He's so hard on himself that he's a guy that I have to be careful with so I don't over-coach him."
Carson is highly detail-oriented, always fretting about ways to improve the Nittany Lions' defense. When he's not taking on charging centers, offensive guards or fullbacks, he wants to be in the film room. He is a thorough note-taker - "I take really good notes," he said - and he's always looking for improvements that he can make to his game or finding tendencies that reveal the intentions of opposing offenses.
If anything, Carson over-coaches himself. Rarely satisfied, he said he prepares so thoroughly due of the importance of his game day responsibilities. Vanderlinden said Carson is "the brain" of the defense, meaning the junior is responsible for relaying most of the play calls and making sure the linemen are lined up in the right gaps.
"[The coaches] kinda add the extra responsibilities on the middle linebacker, so anytime there's a play call, or you have to set the formation a certain way, they kinda put that on me," laughed Carson. "It gets tough sometimes. Whenever the d-line is not set the right way, the blame goes straight to me. But we're all working together and trying to be sure to get the calls in together as one unit."
"He really does have a lot on his plate as far as getting us set," added senior outside linebacker Michael Mauti. "He does a great job of accepting a role, especially with the new defense, and he had a lot to learn. You can throw him on the list of guys that really have improved this year with their game and with their football IQ."
Carson said Mauti and Gerald Hodges were responsible for assisting with the pre-snap responsibilities, too, especially when sophomore Mike Hull replaces him in the Roadrunner package, a formation implemented by coordinator Ted Roof for passing situations. By Carson's own admission, he's better suited to stopping the run.
"I really think we just feed of each other," Carson said of the linebacker corps. "We're all so focused and love the game so much that anytime there's a day that you maybe don't feel like watching film or something like that, there's always someone who pulls you in. So were just all together, making sure we're staying on top of things and staying focused and doing the right things."
Playing between Mauti and Hodges, however, sometimes appeared to be a thankless job. Even with Mauti's season-ending knee injuries, the senior outside linebackers are all but promised to be on NFL rosters a year from now, and they seemed to capture as many ball-carriers as they did headlines. Both averaged nine or more tackles per outing, and through 10 games, they had combined for 11.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 quarterback sacks and four interceptions.
What's more, Vanderlinden said, Mauti and Hodges tended to make their plays in open space, away from the trenches. You know, where the television cameramen and sideline photographers can get a crisp photo-op. Carson, on the other hand, is most effective close to the line of scrimmage, mixing it up with the 300-pounders.
"When you're intercepting balls and making tackles for losses, that draws attention to you," Vanderlinden said. "Both Gerald and Mike have done a bunch of that. They make a lot of plays in space, and Glenn makes them between the tackles. I just think it's the nature of the [middle linebacker] position. Plus, it's the outstanding plays that Gerald and Mike have been making, too. If Glenn were to get his hands on a couple footballs, that would certainly help his notoriety."
But Carson said he doesn't pay much attention to newspaper clippings or social media. (He has a Twitter account, with more than 1,400 followers, but his most recent post was on July 29. It was to announce he was staying at Penn State after the NCAA sanctions. It read, "People who suffer together have stronger connections than those who are most content.") And he certainly doesn't seem to be frustrated by the media attention that Mauti and Hodges constantly receive. Overlooked? Maybe by some, but to Carson, that's not what matters.
"Really, it's just a team sport, and I'm happy for [them]," he said. "I really just want to see both of them do well."
And he'll do what he can to make them do better. As fired up as Mauti can get on the football field, there have been some obvious lows around the Penn State program during the past year. Sometimes making his teammates better simply means being a good friend or a Ph.D.
"There have been times when, you know, Mauti's been down on himself and gets frustrated," he said. "So I've learned to be a little bit of his psychologist, in a way. It's definitely the same way with him. I can get real frustrated, real easy, and he's always been there. We've just become real good friends throughout all this."
Friends, yes. Psychologist, well, at least not yet. Actually, Carson, a 3.29-GPA student, is in his third year as an advertising/public relations major, so that means he has one more year of school - and another year of Nittany Lion football.
He's eligible for the NFL Draft after this season, and he's put some thought into playing at the next level. "I'd like to play football as long as I can," he said. "Absolutely."
But he doesn't think he will be leaving early. "I definitely am coming back next year," he said, "and I look forward to playing a good senior season and just hoping the right things happen afterward."
When practice kicks back up in the spring, though, No. 6 and No. 42 will no longer be flanking him. Hull will likely find a full-time starting spot at one of the two outside linebacker positions, and either Ben Kline or Nyeem Wartman will man the opposite spot. But it will be Carson, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound stalwart from the Jersey Shore, who will be the veteran face of a defense that loses five starters and three major contributors to graduation.
The downtown clothing stores will likely evoke memories of the Dan Connor days, when No. 40 jerseys were hot-sellers, and the name Glenn Carson will likely go down as the next building block of a long tradition of Penn State linebackers. That's all well and good, Carson said, but that is not why he is planning to stick around for his fourth and final season.
"Being the center of the attention is not really so important to me," he said. "I couldn't really care about that. The way I see it, the defense needs me a lot more next year, and I'm going to step into an even bigger role next year. I'll be even more of a leader than I already am, so that's more of an incentive than anything."
And, of course, he'll keep representing southeastern New Jersey while he's at it.