It was Sept. 16, 2018.
Minnesota Vikings kicker Daniel Carlson missed one field goal in regulation and two in overtime to result in one of the two tied games this past NFL season. To make matters even worse, the contest was against the Green Bay Packers, an NFC North rival.
Carlson was waived the next day and replaced by veteran Dan Bailey, who was patiently waiting for his opportunity as a free agent.
Just like that, Carlson was jobless.
“It was hard,” the Colorado Springs native said. “You doubt if a team is going to want to pick you up. I just wanted to get back. It’s not a situation I ever want to be in again.”
Five weeks later, the Oakland Raiders came calling. Carlson made the most of his redemption opportunity, going 16 for 17 on field goals under coach Jon Gruden. One of those kicks was a game-winner.
“It’s great to have the fighting through adversity pay off,” Carlson said. “The wins we had when I was a part of it were awesome. When you get the opportunity, it’s a lot of fun to celebrate.”
Carlson is faced with a new challenge — to get ready for his second year in the NFL and maintain a job throughout the entire season.
Consistent success at the highest level is a trial Carlson has been preparing for since he was a teenager, all encompassed by his understanding that the game of football does not define him.
‘I didn’t know how good I was’
Dating back to his time in high school at The Classical Academy, Carlson wasn’t supposed to be a football player. His top sport was soccer, but he doubled down on the gridiron because of his opportunity to spend time with friends and ability to send a football through the uprights.
His football venture began in 2009 with Chris Coughlin, CEO of Glazier Clinics and special teams coordinator at TCA.
The day before Carlson’s freshman year of high school, Coughlin noticed his family in the pews at North Springs Alliance Church, fresh off a lengthy mission trip in Sweden. He was searching for Nils Carlson, Daniel’s older brother.
But Nils was not there. His family left him in Sweden to play professional soccer.
“Do you remember Danny?” father Hans Carlson asked. “He’s got the strong leg in the family.”
Coughlin took Daniel out to the football field for a kicking session. In the middle of the workout, the special teams coach offered the freshman to-be the starting kicking job.
Of course, Daniel accepted.
By the time his junior year came around, he began gauging serious interest from college coaches around the nation.
“Really, until junior year, I didn’t know how good I was,” Daniel said. “I went to a national camp and everyone was like, ‘Who is this guy?’ I had no idea I was doing that well, and then I was eventually ranked No. 1 in the nation.”
Daniel quickly realized his future wasn’t in soccer — it was in football.
“He gave me a luxury that most high school coaches don’t have,” said David Bervig, TCA’s coach for Daniel’s senior season. “If we got to the 50-yard line, we had a shot with a kid like Daniel.”
He committed to Auburn on July 1, 2012. It came as a shock to many on the outside looking in, seeing as Daniel’s parents attended Alabama. The Crimson Tide never extended an offer.
“We hated Auburn,” Daniel said. “It was strange, but Auburn was the first school to give me a verbal offer. I checked it out and absolutely fell in love. It felt like a great place.”
Auburn was a second home to Daniel, and he made it his pinpoint destination for the next five years of his life.
Luckily for him, that’s where he met Katherine Barker — now Katherine Carlson.
‘We went through it together’
Daniel was never a country music fan, but Luke Bryan was in town for his Farm Tour at Ingram Farms, and it was the place to be that Thursday night for college students and locals in Auburn.
It was Oct. 10, 2013.
Daniel went with his boys; Katherine went with her girls. Through a mutual friend, the two met for the first time.
“We barely got each other’s name,” Katherine said. “They left the concert early because they had workouts the next morning. I eventually ended up inviting him to my sorority’s date party. We talked and started dating about a year later.
“He was still the backup kicker when we met, so I had no idea that the NFL was even a question.”
When Daniel wasn’t spending time with Katherine, he was working on his game in hopes of making it to the NFL. After taking a redshirt in 2013, he took over as the full-time starter for coach Gus Malzahn.
Three hours before Daniel’s first game as punter and kicker at Auburn, he sent a lengthy text message to Coughlin.
“It’s this long text thanking me for the investment in his life,” Coughlin said. “It’s a testament to his character. He thought about other people in that moment when the typical teenager would be all about himself.”
Daniel never missed an extra point in his collegiate career. He finished 198 for 198, also going 92 for 114 from field-goal range. He’s the all-time leading scorer in SEC history.
Shortly after the 2017 season ended, on Jan. 13, 2018, Daniel married Katherine in Birmingham, Ala. She played a key role in helping her husband through the ups and downs of his rookie season.
“Having my wife in Minnesota with me was a blessing,” Daniel said. “We went through it together, and there were times where it was tough. It was great to have her keeping me grounded. It’s a journey for us.”
Three months following the wedding, Daniel was selected by the Vikings in the fifth round the 2018 NFL draft.
Coughlin made his annual late July trip to Minneapolis for a vacation with his family, and he met up with Daniel for dinner at Doolittles Woodfire Grill days before he began training camp with the Vikings.
Sitting at the table, munching on food and telling old stories, Coughlin asked, “How are you dealing with the pressure? In the NFL, they’re committing to you for like five minutes.”
Looking back at his coach, mentor and friend, Daniel responded with sincerity.
“Coach, I thought I was going to be a small college soccer player,” he said. “Because of football, I went to Auburn, am the all-time leading SEC scorer, got an MBA for free, met the love of my life and just put a $248,000 bonus check in the bank.
“If all ended tomorrow, I’d feel blessed beyond measure.”
‘He’s emotionally tough’
Once Daniel was waived by the Vikings, he received text messages from his support system. Bervig said his heart broke, and he didn’t sleep that night due to an overwhelming amount of stress.
Daniel also spent time on the phone with Coughlin, who reminded him of that conversation a few months back at Doolittles.
“Do you still feel that?” Coughlin wondered.
“Coach, I still feel that more than ever,” Daniel said. “If that’s it, I’m blessed.”
While Coughlin described Daniel as embarrassed and humiliated for letting down the team, he said his former kicker kept a “wise old man” mentality. From the time Daniel was cut from the Vikings to when he was signed by the Raiders, he spent countless hours perfecting his craft.
Katherine said she witnessed Daniel’s emotional toughness throughout his five weeks of unemployment. He was able to bounce back due to his understanding that football doesn’t define him, his wife mentioned.
“I think that is one of the reasons why he’s such a great kicker,” Katherine added. “Even if he misses, he can shrug it off like it never happened. It has been so awesome to be married to someone like that.”
In Daniel’s debut with the Raiders in Week 8, he made all four extra-point attempts. In Week 11 against the Arizona Cardinals, the 6-foot-5, 215-pound kicker made two extra points and three field goals, one of which was a 35-yard game-winner.
With the struggles of being a rookie NFL kicker out of the way, Daniel is ready to secure his spot as the starter once training camp begins for the Raiders at the end of July.
“Kicking is different than a lot of positions,” Daniel said. “It’s such a mental game.”