Azusa Pacific’s newest football coach is not only a fan of football, but also an advocate.

Throughout this column, Rudy Carlton and I have talked a lot about the program and the sport in general. Topics ranging from the program’s adjustments to COVID-19 to the importance of offensive and defensive schemes to the long-lasting impact of concussions; we have engaged in an all-facet, ongoing discussion about the game of football.

Through every second of dialogue, Carlton continued to have enthusiasm. He continued to show joy in being the new head coach. He continued to share a deep admiration for his faith in God. And, quite possibly the most obvious distinction, he continued to express his belief in football being the greatest sport in the world.

“There’s just something special about football,” he continuously said throughout these interviews. “Every sport has its benefits and concerns. I played nearly every team sport growing up. But football quickly became my passion.”

There is a different agenda between the life of a coach and a player. Carlton has experienced both, and both have nearly encapsulated his entire life. Of course, we know about his four-year playing career at APU when he was the starting quarterback. But there are his pee-wee days as a young eight-year-old. There are his high school days at Dakota Ridge High School in Littleton, Colorado. Or even his time as an Arena Football League player, playing for professional teams such as the Texas Copperheads and Boise Burn.

However, he officially learned to love the game fully once he joined Azusa’s coaching staff in 2009. Why? Because he learned that the game is meant to be used as much more than a means for competition. Instead, it has the potential to change the trajectory of someone’s life. When applied in an environment such as APU, that change is often associated with one’s religious faith.

“When I think of my greatest memories in football, I immediately think of the guys that our program has baptized over the years,” he said. “There was a graduate assistant who was a part of APU football several years ago and he was feeling doubts spiritually. I was there to walk with him through his faith journey and to be open to his doubt and to learn and grow together. Before he left the program he asked me if the team would be open to baptizing him. It was easily one of the most rewarding moments of my life.”

Despite the often dangerous trends that are associated with playing a game of such a high impact, football is without question a sport that embodies team. Carlton would argue that football trumps every other team sport in that regard.

The biggest reason for this recognition is the, “11 to one ratio.” The idea behind this, according to Carlton and his staff, is that it takes 11 players on the field to make a play successful. However, it takes only one for a play to fall apart. There is not a single competitive team sport that needs such a comprehensive workforce to find continuous success.

“For baseball, you can have a dominant pitcher or bullpen. For basketball, you can have one or two impressive scorers that can take over a game. That sort of philosophy fails to exist in football. It is a complete team effort, everyone needs to be involved and they need to do their job well,” Carlton said.

Photo courtesy of APU Sports Information Office

Some people will never understand football and its incredible level of popularity. Sentiments of its violence, negative culture and flaw of influencing (or oftentimes developing) hypermasculinity will always be related to the sport and its agenda. No, Carlton will not attempt to salvage this point. He may even go as far as to admit these faults within the game are more often than not existent to a majority of collegiate football programs. Yet, he takes pride in knowing that APU football is unwilling to fall into such temptation.

He believes that there is a smart way to coach the sport – something he has continuously called the “APU way.” The key to coaching is not placing increased significance on talent. Players with unbelievable skill will be a component of every football roster. What is not are players who will place integrity and morality above what they do on the field.

Nevertheless, that does not mean the program shies away from the rugged mentality of the game. In fact, Carlton failed to be bashful in his need to expect excellence from his players. That desired excellence is indeed meant to be placed on the field, but he also holds his players accountable for their approach to life, deeming that there are both behavioral and conceptual expectations when entering the program.

“My job as a coach is to teach that virtues such as grit, brotherhood, accountability and so on are more important and valuable than talent,” he said. “When considering the length of a football game, you see about 70-80 snaps on defense and offense. And that doesn’t even account for special teams. All of that time on the field is evidence of the importance of team. You need to be selfless when you play this game. If you feel that your skill is higher than others around you, the dynamic will fail.”

At the end of the day, Rudy Carlton is a man who has grown to learn that football is not just a game of enjoyment. Instead, it is a tool. Whether it be applied to the life of a kid who grew up in a suburb or the kid raised in a struggling and taxing household, it is a tool to escape. It is a tool that brings those different communities together. A tool that builds brotherhoods out of those diverse kids.

That relationship between teammates is what football is capable of bringing to competitors, but it must be applied and taught correctly. If not, the tradition of the sport is spoiled into a dangerous form of coercion in which violence and negative vigor is the solution instead of the problem. 

This is why Carlton coaches, to bring fulfillment and respect back to the sport. It has grown to become his purpose at APU. He simply loves the game.

“Football brings out the competitor in a young man. Through the crucibles of it, the game teaches life lessons. That brings a massive responsibility to the shoulders of coaches. And the good ones know and continue to learn the best ways to conduct their system in a safe manner. That is how my job is defined – to build young men and teach them how to succeed on and off the field.”

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To check out the entirety of the “Rudy Tuesday” column, here is a comprehensive list of the other six articles: