Last season, in the midst of a perfect run through District 5-4A play, Guyer’s varsity players kept hearing about a standout on the school’s freshman team.
The Guyer coaching staff, including head coach John Walsh, built up the legend of Mike Carrillo and how he struck fear into opponents at every level, dating back to his middle school days.
The varsity players got sick of it, so Logan Helal decided to do something.
“All we heard was how good Mike Carrillo was,” said Helal, a wide receiver Walsh called one of the most physical players in his program. “‘Oh, Mike Carrillo did this and Mike Carrillo did that,’ and we’re over here saying ‘I don’t believe this.’”
That’s when Helal decided to see what the freshman was made of, and he chose to do it in the most primitive way possible.
During a Monday morning lifting session, Helal told former strength and conditioning coach Bryan Kegans that he wanted to call out Carrillo to participate in a “bull in the ring” drill where, essentially, one player is left standing in a battle of physicality and will.
Helal said the two had all day to build anticipation for the act that would come that afternoon during practice. It was the talk of the school all day, he said.
“Everyone was telling me I’d better not get whupped by a little freshman,” Helal said. “I was laughing, but secretly I was hoping I wouldn’t.”
Helal won the battle, but it wasn’t an easy task and Carrillo held his own more than the elder, stronger Helal expected. Carrillo has been one of the guys ever since, and this year he’s showing why the coaches were so high on him in the first place.
“That was fun,” Carrillo said. “It was a good experience. There’s so much more intensity on the varsity level than in freshman ball. It was an eye-opener for me.”
This season, Carrillo has looked anything but out of place for the Wildcats (1-2), who would be on a two-game winning streak heading into district play next week but had to forfeit their Sept. 5 victory over Colleyville Heritage for use of an ineligible player.
The sophomore outside linebacker racked up 12 tackles, with two behind the line of scrimmage, in helping Guyer hold a powerful Flower Mound Marcus rushing attack to 37 yards on 31 carries. The week before against Heritage, Carrillo replaced injured linebacker Joe Silvaggio and tallied six tackles, with three behind the line. With Silvaggio likely sidelined for a few more weeks, Carrillo will be penciled in to start more games after making his starting debut against Marcus.
“He’s one of those momentum-changing players,” Walsh said. “I’m watching defensive film [after the Marcus game], and I kept going, ‘God, who was that?’ Is was Carrillo. ‘God, who was that? Oh, it’s Carrillo again.’ He’s an impactful player. His motor is never off full tilt. That’s why he makes plays.”
Walsh saw it coming even before Carrillo set foot in the halls of Guyer.
Carrillo was a jack-of-all-trades at Crownover Middle School, rarely getting a rest while dominating the competition at both linebacker and running back. Walsh claims Carrillo is the best eighth-grade football player he’s seen, and Carrillo has validated that claim with each passing week.
But what really set the sophomore apart at a young age was his demeanor on the field, something that led the coaches to brag about the youngster to the varsity players last season before he was called up from the freshman team toward the end of district play.
“When Mike was in middle school or as a freshman, he possessed a lot,” Walsh said. “He was faster than everybody. He appeared to be stronger than everybody. He had a great sense of the game. But what separated him, and why I still say he’s still the best middle school player I’ve ever seen, is he was just nasty.
“Kids feared playing Crownover, and our freshman team even, because of Mike Carrillo. That’s not exaggerating.”
Carrillo’s unprecedented versatility on the field also is not an exaggeration. When he isn’t making drive-changing plays on defense, he can be found as one of two deep backs on the Wildcats’ kickoff return team, right alongside senior running back D.J. Breedlove.
In Guyer’s opener against Cedar Hill, Carrillo posted a 44-yard return. The following week against Heritage, he took one back 27 yards. Against Marcus, his 58-yard return set up a Jerrod Heard touchdown run on the next play.
And he’s a linebacker.
“I have a team full of guys who can be back there,” Walsh said. “To put a sophomore non-offensive starter back there seems strange. Most kids, when you break a kick return they’re going to score. He wants to run someone over and then go score.
“That ain’t folk-tale. That’s exactly what he does. We [coaches] kind of dig it. His nastiness separates him.”
It’s just another job for the versatile Carrillo, who was called up to the varsity squad last year with the thought of using him as a slot receiver before he was sidelined with a shoulder separation in the regular-season finale against Fort Worth Brewer. This year, with experienced depth there, he’s needed more at linebacker and running back. But kickoff returns?
“I did it my whole life, so why not now?” Carrillo said. “I know what I’m doing out there. The coaches have me playing pretty much any position, so I kind of just go with it. It just comes naturally.”
The nastiness comes naturally, too. That was evident on that Monday afternoon last fall when Helal admittedly was shocked by the first crack Carrillo threw his way as the two gnarled at each other, wanting nothing more than to beat one another in the circle on the 50-yard line of their practice field.
“I beat him, but it was a good contest for sure,” Helal said. “It was a fun day. We learned a lot about him that day.
“After that, everyone took him in as a little brother. He’s one of my best buddies now.”
He’s quickly becoming one of Guyer’s best players, as well.
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.