By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – You won’t find Mitch Carlson’s name in the University of Nebraska at Kearney record books.
And he’s OK with that, because it’s displayed somewhere far more important.
Inside his locker, there’s a blue plaque recognizing two Loper football players:
Richard Myers (Grandfather)
Mitchell Carlson (Grandson)
Central City, Nebraska
QB/Wide Receiver 2016-2019
One played his final home game Saturday afternoon, and the other wasn’t going to let cancer stop him from being there to support his grandson.
Back when UNK was Kearney State College, Myers played football under legendary head coach Al Zikmund.
The three-sport athlete (football, basketball and track) was a defensive and offensive end on the 1961 and ’62 teams that went a combined 13-3-1. However, a broken arm suffered during his sophomore season ended his playing days.
“I told Zikmund I wanted to quit school, and he said, ‘No, you’re going to help me,’” said Myers, who served as a student manager following the injury.
A metal plate in his right arm prevented him from joining the Air Force, so Myers remained in Kearney, where he graduated in 1965 with a bachelor’s degree in education.
Over the next 32 years, the Bertrand native taught elementary, middle and high school classes in WaKeeney, Kansas, and Central City.
“I taught just about everything. Just give me a book and a 30-minute head start,” he said with a laugh.
Myers also coached a variety of sports, including football, wrestling, track and golf. After earning a master’s degree in administration from UNK, he spent three years as principal at Central City Middle School before retiring in 2000.
“I’ve always been proud to be associated with UNK,” said Myers, whose three children all attended the school.
Carlson’s mother Tammy has three degrees from UNK. She’s been an educator for 25 years, including the past 11 as the elementary principal at Fullerton Public Schools, where she also serves as the K-12 special education and curriculum and assessment coordinator.
“My dad was a huge role model,” Tammy said. “I always looked up to him.”
After finishing his career at Central City High School with more than 6,000 total yards and 71 touchdowns, Carlson knew he wanted to play college football.
And he wanted to play for the Lopers.
“In my heart, I always had a special feeling for this place,” he said.
During four seasons filled with ups and downs, including the transition from quarterback to wide receiver, Carlson never quit on his teammates. A three-time MIAA Academic Honor Roll selection, he received the team’s Offensive Leader of the Pack Award in 2018 for his leadership and dedication.
“By playing football and committing to UNK, I made friendships that will last a lifetime,” he said. “That’s what makes it all worth it.”
The redshirt junior also fulfilled a dream he had for his grandfather, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in May 2017.
“I always envisioned him being able to walk with me on Senior Day,” Carlson said. “When times were tough, I thought about him and how he did things.”
Weakened by the bone cancer and chemotherapy treatments, Myers hadn’t attended any UNK games this season, but he wasn’t going to miss Saturday’s home finale, when Carlson and 24 other Lopers were recognized at Cope Stadium. Steadying himself with two canes, the 76-year-old stepped onto the field one more time to join his grandson during the pregame festivities.
“That meant the world to me,” Carlson said.
Although the Lopers lost 57-41 to MIAA rival Washburn, Myers couldn’t have been prouder. Watching his grandson wear that blue and gold uniform is an emotional experience for the rural Central City resident.
“It’s tough,” Myers said of the moment, pausing to wipe a tear from his eye. “But I’m here to support him. It’s an honor.”
Carlson is forgoing his final year of eligibility to begin his own teaching career. The middle grades education major will student teach next semester at Horizon Middle School in Kearney before graduating in May. He also plans to coach and eventually become a school administrator.
“He’s gonna be a good one,” Myers said.
Just like his grandfather.