Leading His Team

Brian Karlson of Modesto listens in on the Texas football team's meeting after practice Monday at San Diego State University.
Brian Karlson of Modesto listens in on the Texas football team's meeting after practice Monday at San Diego State University. Unknown

University of Texas football coach Mack Brown stepped aside for a while Monday and gave control of his Longhorns to Brian Karlson.

For Karlson, a Modesto Junior College student who was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at the age of 7, just being there was a huge surprise. The Longhorns fan had asked his family to go to Thursday's Holiday Bowl in San Diego. His stepfather communicated via e-mail with university officials to set up a surprise meeting between Karlson, Brown and other members of the Texas football team after their Christmas Eve practice.

Then Brown turned over his team.

"Coach Brown said, 'The sidelines are yours. If you see anything we need to clean up, you let me know,' " said Karlson's stepfather, Anthony Price.

Karlson was in a wheelchair by the time he was a freshman at Downey High School. But that didn't stop him from becoming a local junior goodwill ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, according to Price. Nor did it keep him away from football fields. He was a team manager at Downey before graduating in 2004.

Now 21, Karlson plans to transfer to California State University, Stanislaus, next year. He wants to be a history teacher and, ultimately, a football coach.

Karlson helped when his brother Daniel played in the Central Saints youth program. Then Karlson discovered college football and Texas Longhorns' burnt orange.

"I really like their players," Brian Karlson said. "They had a lot of stars and seemed to be like a real cool team."

He said recently that his Christmas wish was to attend the Holiday Bowl game between Texas and Arizona State University.

"Next morning, my wife (Karlson's mom, Denise) says, 'Why don't you call or write to the university and tell them about Brian,' " Price said.

Price's initial e-mail to the university set off a chain of events that ended with the family watching practice Monday at San Diego State University. Karlson didn't open this Christmas present; it opened before him.

"It was one of those moments. It was an awesome time," Price said Monday. "It was all worth it, seeing the tears in his eyes."

Karlson said, "When I got there, I found out everybody knew I was coming. It was pretty fun. It was pretty overwhelming at the time, because I didn't expect it."

He was on the field observing practice, then was introduced to Brown, quarterback Colt McCoy, defensive tackle Frank Okam and others. Karlson, dressed in a Texas sweat shirt, posed for pictures with each of them, and Brown and Okam autographed hats for him.

Karlson said his conversation with Brown lasted three or four minutes. They discussed the bowl game, and Brown asked Karlson for his opinion of the team.

"They looked good," Karlson said. "They're real efficient. They don't waste any time. They stay on time, do everything they have to do. There are a lot of big kids. It was pretty cool seeing players you see on TV in front of you."

Karlson stopped short of giving advice to Brown, who has won a national championship with Texas.

"I wasn't that brazen," Karlson said. "He probably has enough people telling him that."

The experience meant as much to Anthony and Denise Price as it did to their son.

"It brings a joy to my heart like no joy, as a dad," Price said. "To see him experience firsthand these players and coaches with the love of football in his heart, it's indescribable. That's what makes it so touching, if you know Brian and his love for football."

Denise said, "It was a real blessing, because I know how much Brian loves football. He's a really good kid, and he doesn't ask for much. We're Christian folks, and I really feel like the Lord had a hand in this, because he knew where Brian's heart was."

Thursday night, Brian will sit near the 40-yard line, rooting on his Texas Longhorns. OK, so their seats are on the Arizona State side of the stadium.

That's not about to tarnish this experience for Brian Karlson or his family.

Bee sports editor Bill Poindexter can be reached at bpoindexter@modbee.com or 238-4588.