BOULDER — Even on the sideline, Carlo Kemp is active. Hands up, shouting instructions, and, moreover, involved.
Kemp, entering his senior season, is a standout football player at Fairview who is hoping to lead the Knights back to the Class 5A championship game, where they went in 2013 — his sophomore season. This is why he is so involved.
Kemp has fully embraced his role as the unquestioned leader of Fairview, a program which hasn't lost in the regular season since 2012. And so, even when sitting out a play to take a breather, Kemp is roaming the sideline, making sure everyone on the defense is in the right spot.
Last season, Kemp played all over the field: defensive end, linebacker, tight end, offensive line, even fullback. He had five sacks, five fumble recoveries, five blocked field goals, an interception — and caused six fumbles. It made for an impressive highlight reel.
Kemp has started at Fairview since he was a freshman, and colleges have been after him since his sophomore season. Entering his senior year, Kemp now has 13 total offers, and is a consensus four-star prospect according to all the major recruiting services. Suitors include Michigan, Notre Dame, Nebraska, UCLA, Wisconsin, as well as Colorado and Colorado State.
Football's in his genes: Kemp is the grandson of Sam Pagano, who led Fairview to great success over 21 seasons through 1989, including three state titles. He is also the nephew of Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano, and San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano — both Fairview grads who played for their dad, Sam.
Now, Kemp plays for Fairview coach Tom McCartney, a legend in his own right who has been at the school since 1993 and whose teams are 23-2 in the past two seasons.
We caught up with Kemp on Thursday.
Q: It's your senior year, and I know it's got to feel a little bit different. Can you pinpoint it?
Carlo Kemp: It's different. You know, you come in as a freshman, and you're like, "Oh, I'll never be a senior. That's four years away." You finally get there, and you're like, "Wow. Where did it all go?"
Coming into this season, it's just different, because it's your year, you know? It's your last year. I'm so thankful that I get to continue on with my journey in football, but I'm playing every game like it's my last because you just never know.
It's just different. You just want everything for your year, and everyone to rally around you — the underclassmen — like we did coming up. We played for the seniors. You're finally at that spot, and you want them to give you that same respect, and we all just want to have a good year together.
Q: I know you've taken leadership roles in the past, but now it's different. It seems like you've embraced that.
Kemp: Yeah, junior captain is a lot different than senior captain. Because even though you're a junior, it's kind of hard to motivate seniors that are older than you. Now, definitely, you're the top guy, and everybody's looking up to you guys.
It's been fun, because they come up to you and you just want to give them the best to make sure our team's the best. You want everyone playing the way you play. We've all just got to rally together for that same goal.
Q: This team has had a lot of success. Two years ago, the state title game; last year, deep in the playoffs again. What are those expectations like, and what are your goals for this year?
Kemp: We're always looking to just get back to where we were. Everyone's trying to get to that championship. You've got to know that. You can't think you're the only team that's working hard. You've got to know that the other 100 schools in this state are working just as hard as you. So you've got to do that extra, and what can you bring to the table that's different?
We're all just trying to get back to that spot. We've really been working hard. That's where we want to get to. We want to win a league, a city, a state championship. Those are our big goals we want to keep in the back of our head going into the season.
Q: So it's incremental? It's not just one thing and that's it.
Kemp: Yeah. Definitely. Boulder, with that rivalry, that's our city. Then the league we're in. Then there's Monarch, and we like to call it a "county championship" with them. And then, there's state, of course. So it's actually four.
Q: Are there any lessons you guys take away from the last couple of years?
Kemp: Yes. We haven't lost in the regular season in a while. In my last two regular seasons, we've gone undefeated. I've only lost two games in two years. I think what we struggle with is when we finally get to those "elite" teams, I feel like we kind of lose sight of maybe who we are. We forget that we're just as good as [the other] team. Then we kind of go into it as the underdogs in our mind, and then it shows on the field.
We were playing Valor (in the 2013 title game), of course, and Ralston Valley (in the quarterfinals) last year — who are both excellent teams. We gave them respect, but I think we lost some respect for who we are. We were both 12-0 in the (2013) state championship, 11-0 in , and I'm just really trying to get our guys this year to believe in ourselves. Always respect your opponent, but sometimes we lose sight of who we are inside.
Q: Why do you wear No. 5?
Kemp: Five's just an awesome number. Five is an awesome number. I do it to honor my uncle Chuck (who wore No. 5 at Wyoming), and also my uncle John — he had 54, but I'm trying to keep that 5 spirit alive. And my grandpa just loves this number. It just looks beautiful on a jersey.
Q: Have you been wearing that ever since you were young?
Kemp: You know what? I was No. 2 all the way until I got to high school. I just like single numbers, solid numbers. For me, it's cool to see a solid number on a defensive guy.
Q: The recruiting process for you has got to be insane. It started when you were a sophomore. What is that like?
Kemp: I've just been very lucky, and blessed, that I've gotten that attention so early on in my career. Sophomore year is I think when it all started to kick off. I'm just lucky, because that usually doesn't start until coming into this season. That's normally when schools start looking at you. I've had to deal with it three years here.
It's just been good. It's just been trials and tribulations, learning how to do it and get it right, not being stressed about it. Because this is not a stressful situation. This is the best situation a 17- and 18-year-old kid could ever have. You have the pick of schools that you're going to go play for. I've had to figure that out, because coming into it, I was everywhere. I was nervous, I was stressed out. I've just really had to sit back and be like, "What am I stressed out for?" This is awesome, I've worked hard for this. It's finally here, and I should just relax.
Q: The fact that you do have the option to almost go pretty much anywhere you want to go, does that make the decision easier, or does it almost make it tougher?
Kemp: Yeah, that's where we're at. I have a lot of options, and it's like, how do I know which one is the right one for me? That's the thing. So you do research and you dig and see if they have the majors you like, and how good they are coming up.
There's just so much stuff you've got to look at, because it's a big decision. I was worried, like, "Can I go wrong?" You know? I just want to get it right. And I'm not in a rush to do it just to get it off. When I make it, I want to make the right decision.
Q: It sounds like you are OK with just taking your time, and you don't have a timetable to put on it.
Kemp: Yep. I'm taking my five [official visits] during the season. My commitment to my school won't probably be early on, maybe halfway through the season after I've seen two or three schools. But it's not going to be before the season. I understand when people try to just kind of get it out of the way. But for me, I just need more time to make sure I see enough schools to know that this is the right one for me.
Q: Away from recruiting, I noticed something today. It's not even official practice, just summer workouts, yet you're into it and you're on the sidelines making sure the guys know the defensive calls. Is that just who you are as a player?
Kemp: Yes. I just want to make sure everyone knows that they're going to play. I want everyone to stay in the program. Because at some point, we're all going to play, we're all going to get in. And we've all got to know it. Because you don't want to go out on the field and not know what you're doing.
I just want everyone to know that we're all loved and we're all important here. Even though you may not be starting, you're second or third string, you're just as important as the people that start. I just want people to know that. And when they go on the field, I just want them to get in there and not be nervous, and having 100 percent confidence that they know what they're going to do.
Q: What's it like playing for Coach Mac?
Kemp: Oh my God, it's the best thing ever. He gets you fired up, he coaches you up. You talk about a guy that knows football, Mac knows football. He knows how to do it well and he does it his way. He's been doing it the same way for, I think this is his 23rd year. So he's got his system and it works.
If you buy into it, and believe in it, it takes you to very special places. You've got to give him the respect that he gives you. Because once you are committed to him, it's green light from there.
Q: You easily could say, "I only want to play defense." But you play both sides. Why is that important to you?
Kemp: I just want to do it for the team. I could just go one way and focus on something, but I just like going both ways. Last year, I played [offensive line] because we didn't have any O-linemen. And I hadn't played O-line since Little League football — since I was a double patch kid. I just wanted to do it so we could get to where we got last year. It sucks, but it's really fun in games. Any of the O-linemen know: Practice sucks, but when you play in games, I've never had that much fun.
Yeah, I just like doing it for the team. It's not about me, it's about the team and how far we can get and what we can accomplish together. There's nothing better than accomplishing it all together. You don't want to be alone in all this, you want to do it as a team. Because everyone puts in all this work. You come here at 7 a.m. to lift, and you come here at 8 a.m. to run, and you always want to do it together.