Hayden Carlson, Glenbard West's junior safety, has built a reputation that Pro Football Hall of Famers Ronnie Lott and Dick "Night Train" Lane would be proud of. He is a 6-foot, 180-pound defensive back who hits with all the ferocity of Dick Butkus, like Moby Dick in a goldfish bowl.
And while his body of work includes such prestigious awards as Defensive Player of the Year in the West Surburban Silver conference and Player of the Game in the 2012 Class 7A championship, it all comes down to one defining moment -- "the hit" or "the tackle" -- that has re-shaped his future.
The film doesn't lie.
"I have watched the replay about 10 or 12 times," Carlson said. "I have a tape. Every once in a while, I turn it on. I have watched the entire game twice. Other times I just run the tape to the last three minutes. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't exciting to watch. Every time I watch it."
In case you have been living on another planet and missed the Class 7A championship game between Glenbard West and Lincoln-Way East on Thanksgiving weekend, Carlson is referring to the closing minutes, when Lincoln-Way East was driving in a desperate attempt to overcome a 10-6 deficit.
"They are driving. They got to our 14. They had fourth-and-10. That play was the defining moment in the game," Carlson said. "Lincoln-Way East quarterback Tom Fuessel) went left. I went that way. As he broke containment, I went with him. When I saw him cross the line of scrimmage, I knew I could come up and make the tackle.
"There are other guys staying back to look at the receivers. I had no one to lock on to. I was watching the quarterback (Fuessel) and looking at his eyes. I saw he was going to run. I remember he put his head down and was determined to get to the pylon. I tried to get in the way of it.
"I threw my body at him. I gave all I had. It was the state championship game. I wasn't saving my body for anything else. I got up. My right shoulder was in a lot of pain. He was short (of the goal line) and laying there. I figured I had stopped him short. I felt a sense of relief. That was the scariest drive I have ever been experienced in my life. I was so satisfied to get off the field."
It preserved Glenbard West's victory and forever changed Carlson's life. When he was named the DuPage Valley's Defensive Player of the Year, he said he "didn't expect it in the least." In fact, he didn't realize the award even existed. But making the single most important play in the state championship game? Well, you don't forget moments like that.
"He probably is the best defensive player in the state," Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet said.
"My stature has elevated considerably," Carlson said. "It is weird that people talk about my name. My parents tell me when they talk to someone and they bring up my name. Hopefully, I can get a pretty girl to go to prom with me. I'm not dating anyone now.
"Most important, now I know I can play at a high level. My future has been affected. I can play this game. I'm better than I thought I was. I never thought I would hear from major schools. Now I am. I guess there is a reason for that. It is exciting to know the opportunities I have been able to acquire."
Related: Hayden Carlson's Rivals.com page
Carlson has many options, more than ever before. And he can expect even more. He has a 5.28 grade-point average on a 5.0 scale. He is taking advance placement and honors courses. This semester, he is studying English, Spanish, physics, government and pre-calculus. He loves math. He once aspired to the Ivy League. That is still a possibility. But so are major Division I programs.
"I want to play football in college, at the highest level I can," he said. "The success I have had this season and the success we have had as a team have shown how I can affect a game. College coaches come in to see me and they have changed my attitude about the recruiting process.
"Earlier, I thought I was too small. Now I think I can play at the next level, Big Ten or major Division I. I have an offer from Toledo and I have heard from Indiana, Minnesota, Ball State and Cincinnati. I think I will hear from more schools."
He already is preparing for his senior year. With running backs Scott Andrews and Devante Toney and tackle Eric Shute also returning, Glenbard West could win another state title. Carlson plans to hire a personal trainer.
"This is the first year I haven't played basketball," he said. "I want to give my body a rest. Then I will get in the weight room. I want to get bigger, faster and stronger. I never have been timed for the 40-yard dash. I want to put on 10 to 15 pounds. I also want to be a smarter football player.
"I watch tape to see how I can improve. Now I am a free safety in the middle of the field. In college, I could be a free or strong safety. I love to tackle and come up and hit. That is my most natural position, where I am most comfortable."
Carlson's dream school is Illinois. His parents are Illinois graduates. His brother Jack currently is a freshman.
"I show the film to coaches when they show up," he said. "I have a highlight tape in the making right now. Hopefully, that will be seen. The hit will be the first clip. The hit or the tackle. I don't refer to it as anything special."
But it always will be.