BELTON — Michael Carpenter might show up just about anywhere on the football field.
He could take a handoff and burst through the middle. Maybe he’ll catch a pass deep down the field, or receive a kickoff and try to weave his way to the end zone.
With his high school background, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see the former Bosqueville standout line up on defense for Mary Hardin-Baylor.
“I went to a 1A high school and we all played both sides of the ball there,” the sophomore running back said. “I played safety, cornerback, running back, a little receiver. I just like playing football.”
In his second season with the No. 2-ranked Crusaders (13-0), Carpenter is averaging 5.7 yards per carry with six rushing touchdowns and 18.4 yards per reception with four TD catches heading into Saturday’s NCAA Division III national semifinal game against No. 5 Wisconsin-Whitewater (13-0) at 2:30 p.m. at Crusader Stadium.
And he’s done it as the primary backup to senior workhorse running back Elijah Hudson.
“Anything the team needs me to do, I’ll do,” the 5-11, 170-pound Carpenter said. “If it’s catch kicks, I’ll do it. If it’s run the ball, I’ll do it. And I really like catching the ball out of the backfield and running with it.”
Beast among boys
Carpenter was a beast among boys at the Class A level but had his high school career cut short by an ankle injury.
“I broke my ankle the fifth game of my senior year, right before district. It was pretty serious,” he said. “I had to have surgery. I was in a wheelchair for a couple of months and then on crutches after that.
“I knew, though, that I just had to work extra hard to get back. I knew if I did my rehab that I could come back.”
And what a comeback it was for Carpenter, who returned to competition in time for track season the following spring and captured the silver medal in the 100 meters at the state track and field meet.
Confident that his ankle could hold up, Carpenter arrived at UMHB as a freshman and immediately had an eye-opening experience.
“When I got here, it was a total change of perspective. It was a lot faster and a lot more physical,” he said. “Going to a small high school, I was one of the only real athletes. It was a big change for me to get here and have to compete for my spot.”
Now accustomed to the quickness and physicality, Carpenter continued to flourish. He has three touchdowns in the last two weeks — including a 15-yard reception of a pass uncorked by receiver Marcus Wimby, who has thrown for two scores out of the Wildcat formation.
“It’s a little different (catching passes from Wimby),” Carpenter said. “I wasn’t really worried about it, though, because I knew he’d get me the ball. It doesn’t have to be pretty as long as the ball gets there.”
To extend their season another week and advance to the national title game for the second time in program history, the Crusaders will have to be sharp in every aspect against the Warhawks, and Carpenter knows it.
“I know we’ve never beat them. We have to play flawless football this week,” he said.
“(The championship game) is always going to be in your mind, but you try your hardest to just focus on this game. We know it’s there, but we’re focusing on Whitewater.”