South Carroll came just short of the ultimate prize a year ago, finishing as Class 2A/1A state runner-up. The Cavaliers brought back a loaded group this year looking to make another run and take the final step.
However, South Carroll had a key void to fill, needing to replace quarterback Ryan Barnard, last year’s Carroll County Times Offensive Player of the Year.
To find a new quarterback, coach Mike Kraus turned to the quarterback of his defense: Carter Mazalewski.
“Carter was a starting JV quarterback as a sophomore,” Kraus said. “He was grooming himself and we were grooming him knowing he was going to step in after Ryan left. I think he has a great understanding of the position.”
Mazalewski started at free safety last season but had mentally put himself in position to take over under center. Kraus called him “the quarterback of our defense” and someone who had “to know every coverage in every formation, make right calls and make sure guys are in the right positions.”
But all the while, Mazalewski was learning from the player he’d soon take over for.
“I try to be my own person but I learned a lot from Ryan,” Mazalewski said. “I took from him how to read defenses, staying calm in situations, leading in the huddle.”
The transition to playing both sides of the ball has been seamless, as Mazalewski has led South Carroll to a 3-0 start. Kraus said as a safety, he already embodied a lot of the same traits required of a quarterback.
The longtime South Carroll coach said thanks in part to his experience leading the defense, his new quarterback already has a handle on one of the toughest aspects of the job: decision making.
“He’s smart and does a great job with managing the game and the football,” Kraus said. “He doesn’t force throws, make unnecessary throws. He makes great decisions, which is all we can ask of him.”
Mazalewski has gotten comfortable in his new offensive role but said he would prefer to play defense “cause I like hitting people.” Yet the two-way player has taken the new role in stride and is using his defensive knowledge to help lead the Cavaliers’ offense.
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“From being the safety, it has a lot of same responsibilities as quarterback,” he said. “In both spots you need to be a strong leader.”
That hard-nosed philosophy paid dividends Friday night in a crucial Week 3 game against Westminster. Carroll County’s top two teams from a year ago both entered unbeaten, and defending champion South Carroll had its back against the wall trailing in the fourth quarter. Mazalewski stepped up in the most crucial moments, first with a 40-yard run on a fourth-down play. Then, he punched in the winning 2-yard touchdown run in a 24-21 win.
“It was third down and I just called my own number,” Mazalewski said. “I stuck my nose down, found a hole and put it in the end zone.”
“It all boils down to that’s what the kid is made of. He has that grit and heart,” Kraus said. “In the huddle he took charge and he was that leader for us.”
This season, Mazalewski has hit on 25 of 41 passes for 258 yards and a touchdown. He’s also the team’s second-leading rusher behind running back AJ Rodrigues, gaining 147 yards on 22 carries with three touchdowns. He’s still involved with the defense, too, recording six tackles.
A dramatic win over a team of Westminster’s quality will have a positive effect on Mazalewski and his team, but he knows the season is far from over. The Cavaliers put their undefeated mark on the line Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Manchester Valley.
“We knew this was going to be one of our toughest games. This will help us a lot going forward,” he said. “It’s a great reminder we have a chance to get back in the playoffs and have a chance to go back to states. Being 3-0 makes the team believe we can do it.”