There are many ways to describe the Pointers’ defensive end Aaron Karlen. He is hard working, passionate, leads by example, but only one word describes him on the field.
“Relentless is the biggest thing,” said defensive line coach Drew Vanderlin. “You see his relentlessness, how he attacks the game and how passionate he is about football. It’s like, ‘ooh, he is going to be kind of special.’”
As a junior, Karlen led the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point with 8.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles. As a result, he finished within the top five in those categories for the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Karlen was named First Team All-WIAC Defense and Third Team All-American by D3football.com last season.
This will be Karlen’s senior season as a captain, a preseason Second Team All-American, and he is entering the season coming off two minor off-season knee surgeries as he had a bursa sac removed before training camp. After falling on the knee again, he needed to get more fluid removed as it restricted his mobility.
“It was nagging and frustrating, but nothing structural,” said Karlen, who wears a knee-pad both on and off the field. “I have to wear this pad, and it’s very uncomfortable. It’s worth it in my eyes, but it becomes frustrating.”
Throughout the 2014 season, Karlen dealt with the injury by sitting out of practices and only playing on Saturdays, all while playing a new position. Last season Karlen switched from linebacker to defensive end, something coaches joked about, but a decision Karlen is glad he made.
“I wasn’t that good at pass protection, and I would rather go forward than lateral,” Karlen said. “ I’m a forward guy not backwards. It was the best move they ever made for me and my best decision when it came to football.”
According to Vanderlin, coaches frequently discussed moving Karlen. It was head coach Tom Journell who came up with the idea to switch Karlen’s position based off Journell’s preference to have quick defensive ends, a spot that fit Karlen’s best attributes on the field. Vanderlin said Karlen seemed hesitant at first, but after the first few games he was asking coaches why he wasn’t moved to defensive end sooner.
But Journell believes no matter where Karlen lines up, he will make an impact on the field.
“He is really talented, and it doesn’t matter where he plays he is going to be productive because he is so dynamic,” said Journell. “He has a flash. He is going to show up and make big plays as a playmaker.”
Seeing how fast Karlen learned the position and the success he has had so far has been rewarding for Vanderlin.
“Since we moved him to end and to see him grow and master that craft, to me as a coach, is exciting,” Vanderlin said. “Aaron is a super smart kid, but on the field he likes to go. For him to put his hand in the dirt, to key in on an offensive lineman and to cut it lose from there really suited his attributes well.”
As a senior, Karlen was voted a team captain by his fellow teammates. This fulfilled a goal he set for himself as a freshman to achieve during his time at UWSP by working hard with a “no days off” attitude. The title of being captain is something Karlen takes pride in.
“It feels great. I always like helping the young guys as I respect those guys,” Karlen said. “It just goes to show how much they believe in you and respect you. I get to play an even better role now as a leader.”
In his last season, Karlen plans to take everything in, whether it is practice, bus trips or games. He says it will be tough to think about not playing football, but that change is a part of life and playing college football is one of the best decisions he has ever made.