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Jackson Carver decided to play football for the first time in his life last fall, a new activity in his senior year of high school.

It went well.

So very well, in fact, that the Woodbury teenager now holds football scholarship offers from more than 30 Division I schools, with a visit to powerhouse Alabama scheduled this week that might result in another offer to add to his list.

This doesn't seem plausible, or possible, not even in the wacky world of recruiting, that college football programs would be lining up to sign a kid who has played only one season of organized football and didn't even know how to properly put on football pads this time a year ago.

His list of scholarship offers already includes Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Miami, LSU, Auburn, Florida State and Michigan State. He also has had conversations with coaches from Clemson and Ohio State.

Carver, a tight end, seems unfazed by his meteoric rise in a sport he knew little about before last summer.

"I have never been one to doubt myself," he said.

Lacrosse first

Carver's dad, Jim, worked as a strength coach for the Kansas City Chiefs under Marty Schottenheimer in the late 1990s, but none of Jim's three sons played football beyond fourth grade.

Jackson, the middle child, focused on hockey and lacrosse. He became a standout in both sports while attending St. Thomas Academy. His schedule with the Minnesota Blades hockey program overlapped with football season, so he never had the opportunity to try that sport.

“In hockey, you have two seconds after they get rid of the puck to finish your check. I thought it was the same rule for football. The [offensive] line wasn't very happy with me.”
Jackson Carver on his roughing the passer penalties

Lacrosse won the tug-of-war in his heart, and Carver committed to play college lacrosse at Notre Dame. He left St. Thomas Academy halfway through his junior year to enroll at Culver Academy, a military boarding school in Indiana that boasts an elite prep lacrosse program.

He played his junior season at Culver, which sits 40 miles south of the Notre Dame campus in South Bend. Carver knew he wouldn't be playing hockey in the fall anymore, so he asked Culver football coach Andy Dorrel if he could join the team for the 2021 season.

Dorrel saw Carver's body frame — 6 feet 6, 220 pounds — and envisioned an imposing presence at tight end. Dorrel sent Carver home for the summer with a JUGS machine to work on catching passes.

Carver's dad purchased 10 footballs and set up the machine in the basement of their Woodbury home. Carver's younger brother, Hunter, would feed balls into the machine as Carver caught 200 passes daily, one after another, rapid-fire.

Carver often positioned his phone to take videos. He made a video of himself making one-handed catches with each hand and sent it to Dorrel, who was so impressed that he sent it to then-Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly as well as assistant coaches at several other schools, including Indiana.

Indiana tight ends coach Kevin White contacted Carver almost immediately. Coaches at other schools began requesting Carver's lacrosse video to evaluate his athleticism.

Carver and his parents took an unofficial visit to Indiana in late July last summer — before he had even gone through a single football practice.

"I wouldn't call it intimidating," he said, "but it was definitely an eye-opener."

Hoosiers coaches put him through a private workout. They started on a JUGS machine, which fired footballs much faster than the one he had at home and without spirals. He described the exercise as "a bunch of pigeons being thrown at me at 100 miles per hour."

The first ball ripped the gloves off his fingers. Another one nailed him in the face. Balls kept bouncing off his hands.

"I was like, I don't know if this is going to work," he said.

He settled in and started catching everything. The next step was field work, but first, Indiana's coaches had to teach Carver how to get into a three-point stance.

They showed him three different pass routes and gave each one a name and a sign. Then they would call out either the name or sign and Carver had to run the correct route.

He aced that part.

"That was my first-ever football experience," he said.

Another first came later that day during a tour of the facility. Part of the recruiting experience is a uniform photo shoot to promote on social media. Carver took the uniform with full pads into the locker room and then came back out a few minutes later.

"I don't know how to put this on," he told the group. "I'm going to need some help back here."

The Hoosiers offered him a preferred walk-on spot that day with the idea that it might turn into a full-ride scholarship offer once they saw him play in an actual football game.

Carver watched football on TV only casually growing up, so he didn't have deep understanding of the game. He got a crash course on pass route concepts and defensive schemes by playing a popular video game.

"I learned what Cover-2 meant from Madden," he said.

His size and athleticism overshadowed his rawness when he took the field for Culver, with some moments of hilarity sprinkled in.

His parents, Jim and Kelly, would sit in the stands and wonder why the officials kept talking to their son. Once, the referee informed Carver when he was playing defensive tackle that he had to stop mimicking the quarterback's cadence, hoping to disrupt the offense. He didn't know that wasn't allowed. He also drew a few flags for roughing the quarterback.

"In hockey, you have two seconds after they get rid of the puck to finish your check," he said. "I thought it was the same rule for football. The O-line wasn't very happy with me."

Carver caught 17 passes for 292 yards and three touchdowns last season. His physique and potential at tight end created intrigue with recruiters.

Jackson Carver has more than 30 football scholarship offers.
Jackson Carver has more than 30 football scholarship offers.

David Joles, Star Tribune

West Virginia became the first Power Five school to offer a scholarship last fall. Offers came pouring in after Carver decided to drop his lacrosse commitment to Notre Dame in favor of pursuing a football career. Rivals.com lists him as a four-star recruit and the No. 15 tight end prospect nationally in his class.

"My goal is the NFL," he said.

Recruiting race

He targeted schools that have a track record of developing tight ends and sending them to the NFL. He took an official visit to Miami this past weekend and plans to visit LSU and Iowa this month.

"He's cramming three years of recruiting into five months," his dad said.

Because his recruiting cycle is so far behind others, Carver reclassified to the Class of 2023. He will spend one semester this fall and play football as a post-graduate at Loomis Chaffee School, a prep school powerhouse in Connecticut. He will enroll in college for the winter semester. He plans to make his college choice by July 1.

His life has been a blur between college visits, turning 18 in early June and graduating high school with a 4.0 grade-point average on a weighted scale with AP courses.

He thrived in Culver's military structure that requires cadets to live in barracks and march to breakfast, among other rules. Carver rose to the second-highest ranking leader in his living unit of 54 cadets, despite being there only three semesters.

"It's really hard to earn a leadership position if you are not here for three or four years," said Dorrel, his football coach.

Carver has always been adaptable and a quick study. When he finds something that interests him, he pursues it with full conviction, even if the endeavor is a totally new experience.

"I don't let it hold myself back," he said.

College football coaches would agree.