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Carda makes most of move from futbol to football

Aberdeen Central’s Karson Carda, center, tries to run past Mitchell’s Lukas Bennett, left and Parker Denne, far right, during a game earlier this season at Golden Eagles Field. Photo by John Davis taken 9/16/2022

Karson Carda was a pretty good soccer player. 

The Aberdeen Central senior spent his whole life on the pitch, playing summer and weekend tournaments, even joining the Golden Eagle program when he entered his seventh grade year.

He was an important piece of Central’s game plan, too, moving from defense to more of a striker position, where he was an effective scorer for the Golden Eagles.

But his heart was always on the gridiron.

So, when his brother graduated after Carda’s sophomore season, Karson pleaded his case to his mother.

“Every mom is always protective of her kids,” Carda said. “She told me, ‘Well, you run the risk of injury.’ But she knew I always wanted to play football, so she said, ‘Do whatever makes you happy.’”

That is, essentially, the story of how Carda came to live in the nightmares of opposing defensive coordinators this season as the featured running back of the Golden Eagle football program.

Carda, at 5-foot-11, 215 pounds, is a difficult tackle for defenses, often employing a significant stiff-arm or moving a growing pile of would-be tacklers an extra yard or five.

And while he’s loving every minute of it, he won’t take much credit for it.

“A lot of the success I’ve had, the coaches have helped me a lot,” Carda said. “And the atmosphere of our team is really good. We’re all really close as a team, and we all support each other. It all comes down to the boys up front. I can’t do anything without them. They’ve been really good the last two years.”

It wasn’t easy, though. While Carda loved football, he was joining an established program with a new head coach and had to learn an entirely new playbook in an entirely new locker room culture.

“There was definitely a lot of pressure behind it,” Carda said. “Obviously, we had a new head coach. Not just me, but everyone on the team. So we were all trying to figure out the new playbook. We spent a lot of time studying as a team.”

Central advanced to the Class 11AA playoff semifinals last season, but were dealt another curveball with another coaching change.

The Golden Eagles got off to an 0-3 start to the season, but have rattled off five straight wins since then with Carda leading the charge.

“He’s been huge for us,” said Central coach Justin Briese. “It took him a little bit of time his junior year to figure out how to play running back and to read the line and find the hole. But he got more and more comfortable as the season went on. Now this season, he’s picked up right where he left off last season.”

Aberdeen Central’s Karson Carda, far left, tries to run past the tackle attempt of Yankton’s Mac Ryken, center, as the Golden Eagles’ Landon Merkel, back center, blocks Yankton’s Charles Foote, back right, during a game last season at Swisher Field. Photo by John Davis taken 9/3/2021

He’s a good culture guy, as well, Briese said, noting that Carda doesn’t let frustration get in the way of positivity if a particular series doesn’t go as designed.

“He’s one of the first guys, if something went wrong and it’s his fault, he owns it,” Briese said. “He’s a positive guy coming to the sideline, and if a series doesn’t go well, he’s picking guys up.”

Plus, while he’s the lead back, he doesn’t mind being a lead blocker either.

“He loves to hit guys,” Briese said. “We were watching film from the other night and we had (Drew) Salfrank in the backfield. (Carda) is out there as the lead block just blasting a guy 10 yards downfield.”

There are no what-if thoughts lingering in Carda’s mind about his decision to switch sports. But he doesn’t deny a tiny bit of nostalgia when asked about his old teammates.

“I wish I could play both (sports),” he said. “I mostly miss the coaches and the guys I played with. There’s a lot of cool guys (on that team).”

At 5-3 on the season, Central currently holds the No. 3 seed in the 11AA standings with one regular season game left to play. The Golden Eagles host Sioux Falls Lincoln Thursday in the finale. Postseason matchups will be determined following Thursday’s games.

“We’re playing the best football of our lives right now,” Carda said. “Our goal is to continue on that. Work out some of the kinks we have. Defensively and offensively, there’s still things to work on, but going into the next couple games, I think we’re really going to come together and reach our peak performance.”

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