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From the driveway to the NFL: Carlson brothers set for ‘MNF’

Updated October 9, 2023 - 12:07 pm

Chris Coughlin wasn’t praying for a kicker as he sat in church on a Sunday morning nearly 15 years ago.

But his first season coaching special teams at The Classical Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was about to begin, and he wondered during the sermon how to find one.

That’s when he spotted in the front row the town’s well-known family of Swedish athletes, unbeknownst of their return from a yearlong sabbatical in Europe — and well aware of the oldest son and his powerful boot on the soccer pitch.

Except Nils Carlson wasn’t with his family, staying in Sweden to pursue his soccer dream and leaving his father, Hans, with a better alternative: His younger son Daniel had the more powerful leg, confirmed the next day in a flawless workout at TCA.

“He’s kind of a nonchalant guy,” Coughlin recalled. “But he seemed kind of into it.”

And not one — but two — kickers were immaculately conceived.

Carlson and eventually his younger brother Anders would become All-Americans at TCA and then Auburn, and now they are NFL kickers who will be in the “Monday Night Football” spotlight when Daniel’s Raiders host Anders’ Packers at Allegiant Stadium.

In his sixth season, Daniel is one of the league’s best kickers, and the rookie Anders is still finding his footing.

“There’s a balance of having a game to get ready for, but also being conscious of taking a moment out to appreciate how we both worked really hard and this has been our dream for a while,” said Daniel, the fourth-most accurate field-goal kicker in NFL history once nicknamed “Thunderfoot” for how hard he kicked a soccer ball.

“To see it come to fruition and get to play against each other in the NFL is very special.”

Family business

Coughlin coached Daniel for four years and Anders for three, sandwiching former Colorado State kicker Kyle Jacobs for a year in between.

“I had eight straight years of touchbacks,” Coughlin said “You become a pretty good special teams coach when you have two All-American kickers back to back.”

Daniel was great immediately. Anders required more seasoning, the byproduct of feet too big for his eighth grade frame and one of several differences between the two brothers, Coughlin said.

Daniel had the more accurate leg, Anders the bigger one. Daniel is a “glass-eater type,” Anders more “happy-go-lucky.”

“They both come into their mental toughness in different ways,” Coughlin said. “Anders is just relaxed and confident. Nothing bothers him. Daniel gets it from knowing he’ll do this a million times to get it right.”

Both went on to Auburn, giving the Tigers nine straight years of professional place-kicking.

But it wasn’t the most popular decision in the household, because Hans Carlson was a star tennis player at Alabama, where he met his wife, Jodie, who worked for the legendary Bear Bryant. It was tough for the family to root for the Tigers, but the Carlsons became synonymous with kicking at Auburn — and the top two point scorers in school history.

Daniel is 3½ years older than Anders, but the younger brother always found himself trying to keep up. Some of the most intense battles were waged in the family’s driveway across several sports.

“Whatever it was, we were always competing,” said Anders, suggesting age and size powered Daniel’s early victories — a notion Daniel would contest, saying “I’m like one million to zero in brotherly competition. … He can make excuses. I can have results.”

Both are now listed at 6 feet, 5 inches and 215 pounds and “now that we’re grown, whether it be pickleball, tennis, basketball, hockey, soccer, football, you name it, it’s friendly brother competition,” Daniel said.

That might not be the word Anders would use.

“I don’t think friendly, but we had competitions,” he said, laughing. “But to compete at everything all our lives and now finally to get to play in a game where we’re actually wearing jerseys and competing against each other is going to be awesome.”

And just as special for Daniel, who mentors his brother atop his NFL career.

“The most important thing is just mentality,” Anders said. “Picking out what you want to do a certain day or in your journey and sticking to it. There’s so many ebbs and flows as a kicker, whether it’s the day or the season. Trusting what you do is the biggest thing he’s taught me.”

Rich Bisaccia, the former Raiders interim coach who is now the Packers’ special teams coach, has coached both brothers, noting the similarities and differences between the two.

“Right now, at this point, I think Anders is a little stronger after six years in college and has more confidence earlier if we’re comparing the two,” Bisaccia said. “But they’re similar in the ability to have a big leg, and confidencewise, they may be the same now.

“I think what’s been good for Anders is that he was able to learn from some of the early struggles Daniel had. I still think the driving force is the dad. He’s an ultracompetitive tennis guy.”

Giving back

The mutual support the Carlsons share trickles into their Colorado Springs hometown, with which they’re involved, much to Coughlin’s delight.

Coughlin said the Packers-Raiders game is a hot topic around town, right there in the heart of Broncos country.

“Everybody likes them,” he said. “There’s not a hint of arrogance in either one of them at any time. You could ask either one of them for anything, and they would help.”

Daniel Carlson returned to TCA in February for a ceremony to retire his No. 35 jersey, an honor that figures to soon follow for Anders.

“Daniel comes on campus, and you should have seen those young kids look at him like he was a god,” said former TCA coach David Bervig, who coached the Carlsons.

“The Carlson brothers are highly respected and conversely speak so highly of their school and community. They’re both legends.”

Numerous family members and friends will attend Monday’s game, including Nils, who is flying in from Sweden.

And what if one of them trots out to attempt a game-winning field goal?

Daniel said he is always more nervous to watch his brother kick than attempt one on his own, but this week will be different.

“I always want him to succeed, but I want our team to win,” he said. “I’d love a blocked kick or something instead of a miss.”

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on X.

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