Former Reagan standout graduates college, reflects on career and prepares for final season

Jesiah Carlton

Former Reagan standout graduates college, reflects on career and prepares for final season
December 22
15:11 2021

Jesiah Carlton was a standout linebacker for Josh McGee’s Reagan Raiders for several years. Carlton racked up a host of awards and honors during his time at Reagan including Team MVP, All-Conference, All-Northwest and even an invite to the 2016 Shrine Bowl. Now that he has accomplished his number one goal of graduating college, Carlton is hoping to put it all together for his final season on the field and a shot at the NFL.

Carlton recently spoke with The Chronicle about his time playing for Wingate University and his future plans.  

Q. What was it about Wingate that made you sign with them?

A. When I was a junior and I was getting recruited by some of the DI schools in North Carolina, and Wingate came around to do recruiting visits with some of my teammates that hadn’t gotten any looks or anything, they pulled me into the office and told me if anything happened, they would be there.

I wasn’t thinking about going to a DII school, but I just kind of remembered them when I didn’t go DI, so I went with them because they were the first school to contact me and it felt like family. I had some guys from Winston that were already up there and they told me how it is, so I took a visit and I felt it would be a good fit for me.

Q. How hard was it to redshirt your freshman year in college after a stellar prep career?

A. It was really tough, because most schools I talked to said I would be able to come in and play as a freshman, so that was just my intention already coming in. When I got there, they had guys that had been there for a while, like graduate guys, so they knew the playbook a little bit better than I did. I had to really humble myself and sit back and learn that year, since I knew that I wouldn’t be able to play. I knew the next year I would be up, so I just waited my turn and that’s how I got through it.

Q. What was it like seeing your first action on the field as a redshirt freshman?

A. It was smoother than I expected it to be, because it’s football at the end of the day. Everything was OK, but the big challenge I did have was during the second game I got switched to D end (defensive end) because we lost one of our starters, so they had some depth issues on the D line. They didn’t really have time to teach me the techniques and everything and all the plays, so really I would go in on passing downs or go in as a speed rusher. That first year I didn’t really know what I was doing out there, but I just played football and it kind of worked out for me.

Q. You seemed to put it all together in 2019. Did the game slow down for you then?

A. It’s crazy that you would say I put it all together, because that’s how I felt about this season. The 2019 season was more of me just having a whole semester to train at D line and learn some of the mechanics of it and I had a chance to learn the playbook as well. Having a whole semester to do that and having the summer of working out, it kind of did come together, but everything didn’t click together like with my instincts playing linebacker, so it was like I was fighting myself a little bit. But, it did kind of come together better than that 2018 season.

Q. Did COVID-19 throw off the momentum you had built up over the previous seasons?

A. Yeah it definitely did. Since we got sent home early in 2020, so that whole time I was just home, working out and getting ready. That summer, that’s all I was doing was just preparing for the season. We were supposed to start a little bit late, but maybe like a week or so before we were supposed to report back to get ready for our first game, they told us that we would not be playing.

That was just a whole semester that I did not play football and that was my first time doing that probably since fifth grade. It was definitely hard not playing and it killed some of the momentum. In the spring we only had four games, so once we got the momentum built back up, it died off because we didn’t have any more games to play.

Q. Coming into this year, what were some things you wanted to prove?

A. The biggest one I wanted to prove was my athleticism, because that 2020 season I played at my heaviest weight ever at 240. It was kind of hard adjusting to that, because I was trying to be a good D end. That was my biggest focus, just on my athleticism. The other one was being a dominant player. It was more a thing of me wanting to show I could play D end coming from that linebacker position so I could show some versatility to those NFL scouts.  Those were my two biggest ones.

Q. How do you feel this year turned out for you individually and as a team?

A. Individually, it didn’t end the way I wanted it to, because I tore my meniscus during the sixth or seventh game of the season. I tore it in the sixth game, I think it was against Barton, and I finished that game and then I played one more game. I then got my MRI and they told me I couldn’t play anymore.

That kind of hurt, because the two games I played with the torn meniscus were, I would think, my two best games of the season, because we were getting prepared for our toughest rivals of the season. It kind of hurt that it happened like that. But other than that, I missed some plays that I wanted to make this year, but I put my highlight tape together and I looked over it and I had a pretty good season. I’m hard on myself, so I didn’t think it at first, but it was pretty good.

As a team, I wish we would have got a ring out of the season, but we had a lot of young guys that was their first time playing, or transfer guys that were first time in our system, so they just needed time. With a whole spring and a summer, I think we can come back and compete for a ring.

Q. What is going to be your plan for this offseason to prep for your final season and hopefully get some looks from the NFL?

A. Right now I have been rehabbing because I had surgery on November the 12th, so I’m just trying to get my knee back. As soon as I get my knee back to full strength, my thing is going to be trying to get back into linebacker shape. I talked to some of my coaches and they told me I could go back to playing that, so my focus is going to be playing both, like a hybrid guy. Making sure I’m fast enough to play linebacker, but strong enough to play defensive end. And then, you know, just working on leadership. This will be my fifth year playing for these guys so I just want to be a leader on the team, because I remember the guys when I was a freshman that led us to a ring and I want to do that for the young guys on our team.

Q. Which position do you prefer, linebacker or defensive end?

A. I prefer the linebacker spot, because I have played it my whole life. It’s a lot of instinctual things that I can’t lose playing linebacker, but when I’m at defensive end, they will kick in. You know you can’t do linebacker stuff at D end, that doesn’t work.

I just kind of like being free, because this past season it was a lot of games where teams would scout us out and they would take the D line out of the game. They would have quick passes or run to the other side and things like that, so I really couldn’t do anything. At linebacker, you can’t shut me off from one side of the field, so I definitely prefer linebacker.

Q. Tell me the emotions you felt walking across that stage at graduation?

A. It was very overwhelming. The moment, it was quick, but in that quick moment I thought about all the tough times I’ve had at Wingate, from a freshman ‘til now. All the friends that I’ve met, all the great teachers and the experience that I’ve had, it was very overwhelming. You just think about everything that has happened and how long I was there and all the experiences. It was beautiful, it hurts that it’s ending, but it was a beautiful time in my life and I am just glad that I graduated and got that degree to cross off one of my life goals.

Q. How did it feel to walk across that stage with your mom in attendance, knowing all the sacrifices she made?

A. I can’t even put into words how that felt. She always preached to me to put God first my whole life and things would kind of work out. It was times in college where it gets hard and you don’t know if you would be able to graduate, but I kept God first and thought about the things she taught me and making her proud makes me happy, so it was a good feeling.

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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