Source: Ben Spicer | Daily TimesXander Carmichael discuss his signing with JUCO football power Arizona Western.
It is said that recruiters like all-purpose guys.
However, Wheelersburg’s Xander Carmichael may be the guy that truly redefines what all-purpose means.
Need a multi-sport athlete? Carmichael is your guy.
Need a guy who can play multiple positions on one side of the football? Carmichael is your guy.
Need a guy who can play multiple positions on both sides of the football? Carmichael is your guy.
And if you need a guy who can execute a desired skill in all three facets of the pigskin, you guessed it — Carmichael is your guy.
The 6-2, 220-pound behemoth of a linebacker — who pulled triple duty in starring as a blocking tight end and a ballcarrier from the fullback position on offense, as well as the 2017 Wheelersburg unit’s primary punter who could play tricks on you in a matter of seconds with his ability to pass — and who doubles as a star catcher on the baseball diamond — made his next college destination official on National Signing Day when the senior made his college football intentions official by signing with junior college powerhouse Arizona Western on Wednesday evening in a signing ceremony at Wheelersburg High School.
For Carmichael, the opportunity to play at the collegiate level with one of the best junior college football programs in America, and experience a new area in the process, is a tremendous feeling considering that the senior has worked his entire life to achieve such a goal.
“It’s a blessing,” Carmichael said. “It’s always something that I’ve wanted to do my whole life, and being able to go for my goals is an accomplishment. It feels great being able to do this. Not many people get this opportunity to go do this, so I’m going to make sure that I take advantage of it, do my job, and hopefully go to a Division I school in two years.”
But as far as Wheelersburg head coach Rob Woodward is concerned, it’s an honor that Carmichael is more than well-deserving of.
“This whole senior class has been outstanding, whether it be in the weight room, on the field, off the field, or during the offseason,” Woodward said. “They’ve all done an outstanding job of recognizing goals and focusing on them. Xander has been a main part of a lot of that.”
Over the course of his high school career, Carmichael has transformed himself into one of the most feared hitters — in more ways than one — across not only the entire Southeast District, but the State of Ohio as a whole.
During his last three seasons of high school football, the highly-regarded 6-2, 220-pound force earned First-Team All-Southeast District accolades in each season while proving himself as a vaunted member of Wheelersburg’s scary and nasty 4-2-5 defense. In each of the last two seasons, Carmichael garnered All-State recognition as the junior obtained Second-Team All-State honors in Division V and followed that up with First-Team All-State honors this year after leading Wheelersburg to a dream season — a 15-0 mark, its fourth consecutive SOC II Championship, and, last, but not least, the thrilling 21-14 overtime victory over Pemberville Eastwood in the Division V Championship affair in Canton.
“It involved a lot of sacrifice,” Carmichael said of the state championship run. “It’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Whether it’s the heat or the cold, we’re out there busting our butts, and we’re doing this not just for ourselves, but for our family and the community. This is what we have all wanted together. We have that bond now because we did it. We won four straight SOC II Championships. We won a state title. You can’t beat that stuff.”
In addition to the overall result, nobody can beat how Wheelersburg found a way to win those affairs — which basically came in Hollywood fashion.
When Wheelersburg trailed 13-0 against Columbus Academy at halftime, it was Carmichael who provided a monstrous spark by not only playing both ways, but completely changing the game in both facets as the senior ran for 62 yards and three touchdowns on nine carries by chewing out one tough yard after another. The senior then found Evan Horsley on a fake punt pass for a 42-yard touchdown in the third quarter that gave the Pirates the lead and completely turned the affair around. Then, against Middletown Madison, Carmichael’s tough running out of the wishbone ultimately led to the senior’s two-yard touchdown run to give Wheelersburg a 15-10 victory that got the Pirates to the Division V State Championship affair.
And when the lights were at their brightest, Carmichael wasted no time making one final memory. When Wheelersburg rallied to tie the score at 14 to send the gritty contest into overtime, the Pirates turned to Carmichael on a 4th-and-1 play. True to form, the senior executed a perfect jump pass that resulted in a Tanner Holden touchdown pass over the middle of the field to allow Wheelersburg to stand atop the mountain for the first time in 28 years.
“That’s what you want to see — who can perform on the big stage,” Woodward said. “Big time players make big time plays in big games, and Xander has continuously done that time and time again. All of our guys feed off of one another and have all contributed in such ways that have been outstanding, but Xander himself has just been tremendous. On special teams alone, there’s going to be some tough numbers that will be hard to match. You could just call it an offensive category in and of itself. Offensively and defensively, with his ability to play at so many different positions from fullback to tight end to running back at different times, and, as we saw in the state title game, his ability to play at the quarterback position — while balancing his duties at linebacker the entire time — shows how versatile he is.”
But Carmichael — who finished the 2017 season with a team-high 104 tackles, three interceptions, an interception return for a score, and a forced fumble from his linebacker position, a 34.7 punt average, and 440 total yards of offense to go along with 10 touchdowns — including a perfect 5-of-5 through the air for 95 yards and two touchdowns through the memorable fake punt passes and jump passes that will forever be etched in Wheelersburg football lore — knows that he couldn’t have accomplished what he obtained without the coaching staff, who has led Wheelersburg to a 52-4 overall mark over the past four years, or fellow teammates such as Evan Dahm, who was Carmichael’s running mate as a fellow starting linebacker in the 4-2-5 scheme that has become a trademark in Pirate Country.
“I was just out there trying to do my job, and I was out there to have a great time,” Carmichael said. “I’m out there to compete, and I want to win. That’s what we wanted to do as a team — win, have fun, and compete. Doing that is what got us to that stage. Having Evan right beside me was a great feeling. Knowing that I have a good bud that plays just alike to me, and having him run the length of the field and hitting kids with me was awesome. That bond will never be broken. I wish the best for him. I know that he’s a great player, and I hope that he goes somewhere big. You can’t beat our coaching staff. They’re giving up time from their family, their loved ones, their kids, to be with us.”
At Arizona Western, Carmichael will be transitioning from one highly successful football program to another as the 6-2, 220-pounder will join a program that has already produced the likes of Jonathan Kongbo, Randy Gregory, and Markeith Ambles within the current decade. Kongbo was the top overall junior college prospect in the Class of 2016, while Ambles — who was a big-time receiver at Houston — and Gregory, who starred as a rush end at Nebraska — ultimately became stars at the collegiate level, with the latter being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
”The coaches and the people are amazing, and the community’s very supportive,” Carmichael said. “That’s what I looked for —a community that’s behind your back, supporting you. That makes everything so much better. The coaching staff is there to work, and when they’re there, they are going to push you,” Carmichael said. “They’re tough on you, but that’s what I want. However, when it’s the offseason, and everything’s done, they’re chill, they’re laid back, and they like to have fun as well. They like to go out and have fun. That’s what I’m like.”
“(Arizona Western) is something that we’ve all been introduced to here, with us not knowing a whole lot about them,” Woodward said. “They were just really impressed with his overall leadership skills, his aggressiveness, and his ability to attack the football. They definitely feel that Xander can make a major impact in a variety of ways. He’s been such a vital part to our program over the last three years. They recognized that and decided that they wanted to go after him.”
And what about jump-passing?
“Hopefully,” Carmichael said. “If they need me, I’m right there.”
Woodward, who saw first-hand what Carmichael could do in all facets of the game of football at Wheelersburg, was also impressed by his baseball acumen. A three-hole hitter who can hit for an average, the catcher certainly left his mark in America’s Pasttime, as well — leading the Pirates to a Division III Regional Final berth in the sport.
“You have to know the responsibilities of every position out there, and you have to have a high motor,” Woodward said when asked about Carmichael’s baseball talent. “Xander’s been outstanding at that. That’s just his want, his ability, his athleticism, and his desire to succeed showing up at every stop. The energy that he brings is just something that will definitely be hard to replace. He’s done a great job, as well as all of our seniors this year, of leaving a legacy with our program.”
And a legacy is one that Carmichael, who plans to pursue a career in engineering or law enforcement during his college days, will leave at Arizona Western.
“It’s a blessing,” Carmichael said. “I’m very blessed to represent Wheelersburg. I made my name here, and hopefully, I can make a name out there and let them know where I came from. Hopefully, I can make it bigger from the JUCO level to a Division I, and even further than that.”
“Xander has an eagerness to learn, and an eagerness to grow, develop, and push himself,” Woodward said. “I’m very proud of him, and I know he’ll continue that with him as he ventures out to test the waters and see what the Western United States has to offer.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT