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Lincoln football program: It pays to be different

Offensive coordinator keeps heads spinning with constantly changing plays

Chad Carlson has heard the -rumor about his play-calling -for Lincoln High's football team Ñ that he uses the playbook from PlayStation video games. And he's OK with that rumor.

'If people think that's what I do, if they think I'm a little crazy, that's fine,' says Carlson, the team's offensive coordinator and a former pro football player. 'That means they probably aren't trying too hard to stop what we're doing, and that's the key thing for me.

'I'm looking for any advantage we can get.'

Using Carlson's 'freestyle' offense, Lincoln has become an offensive power, at least in the Portland Interscholastic League, averaging at least 25 points per game each season.

The Cardinals, a doormat until Carlson arrived in 1999, regularly finish among the league leaders in offense and are in the state playoffs for the fourth straight year. Lincoln (7-2) opens at Beaverton (8-1) tonight.

The Cardinals are tough to prepare for because their offense changes frequently.

'We hear that a lot from teams after we play them,' says Lincoln coach Bill Griffin, who has given Carlson free rein with the play-calling. 'We have to give them videotape of the last two games so they can scout us, but they'll frequently say, 'You didn't run that play,' after the game because we didn't run that play in the past two games. It just got invented for that game.

'Our offense changes every week. And our kids can handle that. That's an advantage we have here.'

Carlson says he doesn't pull plays from video games, but he is developing an individual style for coaching high school football.

'The PIL is a basketball league, so I'm trying to make football as close to basketball as possible,' he says. 'The game should be fast and open, with a lot of one-on-one action that's fun to watch. I think that's attractive to players and attractive to the fans and parents who come to games.'

Lincoln junior quarterback Colin Beeson says each week is intriguing before it starts.

'There's always something new to figure out,' says Beeson, who threw for 1,743 yards and 17 touchdowns during the regular season. 'Chad really pushes us. He pushes me. The offense can be complicated, but once you figure out the basics it's a lot of fun.'

Carlson points out that the freestyle offense isn't just a passing attack Ñ it develops running backs, too. Lincoln had a 1,000-yard rusher in his first three years at the school and easily would have had one this season had Silas Paul and then Alex Higlen not gone down with injuries. Carlson converted receiver Andrew Colasurdo into the team's top back late in the season. Moving players around in the offense is common at Lincoln.

'Mike Libby hadn't played quarterback before we moved him there, but he threw for 32 touchdowns,' Carlson says of the QB who led Lincoln to a playoff victory in 2001 in his one year as a starter. 'We're pretty good at adapting here.'

Impressive football rŽsumŽ

Carlson, 32, gleaned his freestyle outlook after nearly a decade of professional action as a player and coach and a four-year career at Lewis & Clark College. He was an honorable mention receiver on the 1993 NAIA All-American team after catching 50 passes for 1,008 yards.

After taking a season off, Carlson played two summers in Canada, 1995 and 1996, then two seasons of indoor football in Portland, first for the Forest Dragons of the Arena Football League and then for the Prowlers of the Indoor Professional Football League. The Prowlers played in the six-team league's championship game.

Carlson, who was a 6-foot quarterback at West Linn High, played the final six games of the Indoor Professional Football League season despite having a broken knee cap.

'I just can't get enough football,' he says. 'I play it on video games, I study film at night, I go to sleep thinking of plays I'm going to run the next day. I love it.'

Carlson also spent a season in the European League with the Vienna Vikings. Last year, he started the Arena 2 season as an offensive coordinator for a team in Honolulu and finished the season as the team's coach and general manager after being promoted when the squad started 0-8. The team finished 5-11 and led the league, a minor league affiliate of the Arena Football League, in scoring at 59.9 points per game.

Staying put

Carlson was the GM for the AF2 team in Boosier City, La., until an ownership change moved him out. He returned to Portland in August, just as the high school season was beginning, and Lincoln hired him as both a coach and staff member.

Carlson also has coached at West Linn, Wilsonville, Madison, Centennial and LaSalle Ñ and that's enough travel, he says. He works as Lincoln's student resource officer and is an assistant athletic director.

His wife, Monica, works as a model and is a Blazer Dancer. They have twin 4-year-old daughters, Ellee and Emma.

Carlson points out that the double letters in his daughters' names is partly an homage to his playing number, 11.

Carlson says he's interested in being a high school head coach but is in no hurry to leave Lincoln.

He remains connected to the AFL, though. He will travel to Australia in December as a coach on a 12-day mission to bring indoor football there.

'Everything just seems to be falling into place for me to enjoy life, so that's what I'm doing,' he says. 'I saw the world for free as a player, and I'm just trying to pass on what I've learned. And that's a lot of fun.'

Contact Cliff Pfenning at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .