Lamoni, IA - Talented. Hard-working. Dedicated. Great teammate. Humble. Leader: This is how teammates describe Graceland University's Johnny Carrasco, a junior linebacker from Peoria, AZ.
Carrasco donned his first helmet and shoulder pads at age six and football has been a huge part of his life ever since. "My dad originally put me in [football] to toughen me up. That is very much appreciated now," says Carrasco.
Carrasco attended Millennium High School in Goodyear, AZ, where he received many football honors, including Defensive Player of the Year, Most Valuable Player, and selection to the All-State team. His most memorable experience, however, was playing against two very talented young men.
During Carrasco's sophomore season, his team lost a playoff game to Sabino High School, ending Millennium's run for a state championship. Lining up for Sabino was Brooks Reed, who went on to be selected by the Houston Texans in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft.
The next year, in 2006, Millennium played Agua Fria Union High School, where Carrasco went head-to-head with Everson Griffen for the entire game. Griffen was selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft.
After redshirting for one year at Truman State University, Carrasco continued his decorated career at Glendale Community College for two years. The Gauchos went on to bowl game victories both years he played for them.
In five games so far this year, Carrasco has already recorded 52 tackles, and a sack.
When asked how he wound up at Graceland, Carrasco replied, "I received a call from Coach Jeff Douglas and he told me he saw my film and he liked what he saw. The rest is history."
"Johnny is one of those one-of-a-kind players. Much as I wish you could, you don't get a lot of young men like him in your program at a time," said Isaac Martinez, GU's assistant linebackers coach.
Martinez describes Carrasco as a "total package" human being, praising his leadership and football intelligence alongside his impressive physical skills. The former Yellowjacket lineman was even more enthusiastic about the young man than the linebacker.
"Johnny carries himself with humility and respect," said Martinez. "He is a natural leader on and off the field; friends and teammates are naturally attracted to his personality.
"Although he may display a ‘tough guy' persona, Johnny has a big heart and genuine concern for his friends. We are blessed to have him as part of our football family," continued Martinez.
"Johnny is a leader on our defense. He works hard at his craft and is very determined," adds GU's head football coach, Jeff Douglas. "More than that, Johnny is a great person and I hope people get to know him outside of football."
Carrasco says one of the reasons football is so important to him is because it has allowed him to go to college and meet so many of the important people in his life.
One thing that Carrasco values more than football is family, but to him, family means more than just blood.
15-year-old Paris Peña, from Phoenix, AZ, is part of that family. Carrasco has known Paris since he was 11-years-old, and their families are very close.
Carrasco played Pop Warner football with her older brother England Peña for five years, and Paris is best friends with Carrasco's younger sister, Marisa. The two families enjoy spending time together at various gatherings, especially barbecues.
"Paris is like my little sister," according to Carrasco
On September 16, 2008, Johnny received heartbreaking news: At age 11, Paris Peña had been diagnosed with leukemia. "I was devastated, as anyone else would be," says Carrasco. "I wanted to help, and do anything I could, but was unable to."
Carrasco did the only thing he could do for Paris: he supported and encouraged her to keep fighting.
"He always told me to stay strong and be positive, which really helped a lot. He was always reminding me how strong I was," says Paris.
After seeing pictures of Paris during her chemotherapy, where she had little to no hair, Carrasco decided there was another thing he could do to support her. For the past two years, he has been growing his hair out to donate it to Locks of Love, a non-profit organization that provides high-quality hairpieces to children in the U.S. and Canada suffering from long-term medical hair loss.
When the linebacker told Paris about his decision, she supported it 100%. "I got tears in my eyes when he told me," says Paris. "It's so amazing that he's doing that. It's real hair, not that fake stuff, so it's really cool. It's hard being a kid without hair."
The minimum length to donate hair is 10 inches in a ponytail. Carrasco's hair is about 14 inches right now. He says he's not sure exactly when he is going to have it cut, but when the time comes, Paris will be the one to cut it.
Four years after Paris's initial diagnosis, her family is happy to say she is officially cancer-free. "Knowing she beat cancer makes me so happy and proud," says Carrasco. "She inspires me in more ways than anyone else can. I wish I were half as strong and courageous as she is."
In turn, Paris says, "I look up to Johnny a lot. He's such an amazing person. It's hard, but I'm glad he's living his dream and going to college."
And we are proud to have a man like Johnny Carrasco as part of our Graceland family.