Prairie View linebacker Austin Carroll prepares for the game as hard as he plays it.
Prairie View linebacker Austin Carroll marvels that wide receiver Layton Woodard has dropped only one pass all season. For his part, Carroll probably has about as many missed tackles as Woodard has drops.
In football, the term weapon is reserved almost exclusively for offensive players. Carroll is an exception. Taking it a step further, the 6-3, 180-pound Carroll draws comparisons to a high-tech form of projectile.
"Austin's like a heat-seeking missile," Prairie View coach Bo Barton said. "If we were playing 11-man, he would be at free safety. He finds the football. He's a very, very aggressive player, which is what you are looking for as a coach. When he walks off the field on Friday night, you know he's given everything he has."
Well on his way to leading the Spartans in tackles for the second straight season, Carroll has 50 stops, including 43 first hits through five games (Prairie View is 5-1 with one of those wins coming by forfeit). He also has eight tackles for negative yardage, two sacks and an interception.
A Class 2A state semifinalist last season, Prairie View is in its first varsity season of 8-man. Having played one season of 8-man at the JV level, it was completely new to him.
"Eight-man is a lot more fast-paced. There's a lot more room to cover with less people," Carroll said. "I like 11-man better, but 8-man is still a lot of fun."
In the wide open 8-man game, there is little room for error.
"In 11-man, you can rely more on your teammates," Carroll explained. "In 8-man, if you don't do your job, it's going to be a bad game. Eight-man is a high-scoring game, so if you don't have a good defense, it's going to be a long game. Offensively, if you make a few turnovers, you're done."
Regardless of the genre, Barton is glad to have Carroll on his side.
"Austin is one of those kids you love to coach," Barton said. "He's going to go 100 mph."
Except for the rare times when Barton tries to tone down his aggression a notch, Carroll requires minimal coaching.
"The only coaching you have to do with Austin is slowing him down just a little bit," Barton said. "If I was coaching against him, everything I would do would be misdirection.
Though Carroll may occasionally overrun a play, Barton will happily take the tradeoff.
"The thing about Austin is he can take two steps in the wrong direction, plant his foot and still come back and make a play," Barton said. "As with any aggressive player, his aggressiveness is his weakness and his strength."
Barton found himself re-directing Carroll's energy in last week's 40-18 victory over Christian Collegiate (Miss.).
"I was getting on an official and Austin felt like he needed to get on him, too," Barton laughed. "I said, 'You, need to go make some tackles, and let me handle this.'"
Carroll prepares as hard as he plays.
"While you and I are sitting here talking, Austin's in (the locker room) watching film, right now," Barton said. "He's a student of the game. He likes to win. He plays as hard as I coach."
Carroll's defensive exploits often overshadow his offensive contributions.
"He'll light you up," Barton said. "At the same time, he's also one of our best running backs. We have to play him on offense some, and he can really run and catch."
Seeing spot duty on offense, Carroll has carried 18 times for 162 yards and five touchdowns while catching 13 passes for 168 stripes and a pair of scores.
"We have a pretty sound offense. We have a great quarterback, a great running back, a solid line and two wide receivers with a lot of talent," Carroll said. "My man Layton Woodard is definitely the star wide receiver. I think I've seen him drop one pass all year."
Last week's game against Christian Collegiate (Miss.) was a new experience for Carroll as he made his career debut at quarterback.
"I had never played quarterback in my life," Carroll said. "Coach put me in at quarterback in the Wildcat."
It worked as Carroll scored the Spartans' first touchdown on a 7-yard keeper.
In another first, Carroll played his first game on a regulation 8-man field (80 yards long x 40 yards wide). Most MAIS schools continue to play on regulation 11-man grids.
"It was a lot less room to cover," said Carroll, who also handles the Spartans' kickoffs and punting duties. "Their field is also a baseball field. It rained before the game, which made it a mud hole. We kicked off from the 25 instead of the 40, so it was different."
Carroll's play on the field is hard to miss. What may be overlooked by the casual observer is his ability to make his teammates better.
"He's a great leader," Barton said. "Other guys see how hard he's playing, and they get excited. If everybody is playing as hard as he's playing, I know we are going to lay out some licks that night."
A Spartan through-and-through, Prairie View is the only school Carroll has ever attended.
"There have been a lot of changes over the years," Carroll said. "We have a new locker room, and there have been a bunch of different coaches."
Kaitlyn Bader, Amelia Crnkovic, Kami Bagby, McKenzie Hall and Hailey Humphrey are his only remaining classmates from pre-k.
"I've been with my class from Day 1. Everybody knows everybody. We're all best friends. Prairie View's like a family," Carroll said. "It's going to be hard to leave, no doubt. But it will soon be time to move on to bigger and better things."
Carroll plans to attend UAM-Crossett and pursue an electrical instrumentation technician.
"I'll be with Gage Riles and maybe Tyler Peters," Carroll said, referring to two of his current teammates. "I have always been interested in electrical work. My brother (Dylan Carroll) has always been into speakers and stuff. I watched him messing around with it, and it was always real interesting."
Carroll's plans for UAM-Crossett have an escape clause.
"Unless some miracle happens and I get a (football) scholarship," he said.
While there are differences between 8-man and 11-man football, there is one constant.
"I hate losing — 8- man or 11-man, that doesn't change," Carroll said. "I don't care about the classification. I want that ring. I want to make my last year a year to remember."