Dunbar's Carlos Austin looks for running room in the 2011… (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore…)
If Dunbar's Carlos Austin slips a tackle, his next stop likely will be the end zone. The senior slot receiver and kick returner is just plain fast.
That's no surprise, however, considering his last name and high school.
Carlos is the half-brother of former Poets superstar Tavon Austin, who set a handful of state rushing records at Dunbar and is now blazing trails as a college senior at West Virginia.
After seeing Carlos' speed, it's easy to draw comparisons to Tavon, Dunbar coach Lawrence Smith said.
"We try to get the ball in his hands," Smith said about Carlos," because he can take it to the house any time if he gets the right reads. A few weeks ago, he ran a punt back [for a touchdown]. He has the speed."
Other players noticed the resemblence when Carlos was a freshman at Dunbar the year after Tavon graduated.
"I was on JV and I had a punt return. They said I looked just like my brother when I did it, and I was just smiling about it," Carlos said, still smiling.
Carlos insists he is faster than Tavon, who was once clocked at 4.28 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
"We were supposed to race, but [Tavon] always fussed, 'I could beat you right now.' I tell him, 'I could beat you, for real.' He's like, 'You've got to work out some more,' but I think I could beat him," Carlos said with a grin.
Carlos said he has never been timed in the 40-yard dash, but he's not the only one who thinks he might be able to outrun his big brother.
"I think he's faster than Tavon was in high school," Smith said. "Tavon's going to kill me for saying that, but I do."
Tavon had a good laugh over that comment.
"Carlos [doesn't] want to race me. Coach Smith has to say that. He's trying to keep Carlos' spirits high, build up his confidence," said Tavon, who led the nation in all-purpose yards last season at West Virginia and is this week's Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week.
Despite the disagreement over who is faster, football has been the primary bonding agent for the two brothers, who grew up in separate households with their mothers and other siblings and didn't even meet until about four years ago.
Since then, Carlos said he has looked up to Tavon while Tavon takes his role of big brother seriously. They talk regularly on the phone, and Tavon said he hopes to be at the Poets' game the last weekend in October when the Mountaineers have a bye week.
Carlos soaks up every bit of Tavon's football advice.
"He says, 'Keep on working. Keep on working.' He has a great work ethic," said Carlos, who will try to help the Poets win a third straight state championship this fall to match his brother's total.
While Carlos is eager to talk football, Tavon said he tries to steer the conversation away from sports sometimes.
"I tell him 'I'm not just Tavon Austin. I'm your big brother.' It's still kind of hard, but we're doing a lot better than we used to. When we used to talk, it would be a couple words, him asking about football," Tavon said. "Now, I try to get him [on the phone] and say, 'We're not going to talk about football right now. We're going to try to talk about something else. Let's talk about anything — what you did in school, your grades, girls. Let's talk about something like that,' but he's still kind of star struck."
Carlos said he doesn't feel pressure to live up to his brother's accomplishments, which include state career records for most touchdowns and most total offensive yards. He just uses that as motivation to improve.
One of the things Carlos admires most about his brother is his field vision. He noticed how Tavon, on a punt return, catches the ball then scans the field in the split second it takes to ignite his afterburners.
Smith said Carlos, 5 feet 8, 165 pounds, is still working to read the opposition and make the elusive moves that came instinctually to Tavon.
Carlos' versatility fits well into a Dunbar scheme built around many players. He has three touchdowns this fall — one rushing, one receiving and one on a punt return. In Friday's 13-8 win over No. 14 Edmondson, he recovered a fumble late in the game to set up the No. 8 Poets' game-winning touchdown.
Dunbar's offense is balanced enough that no one has scored more than seven touchdowns this season, and 14 Poets have reached the end zone. Austin said he has no problem sharing the load with other receivers, including Eddie Nelson, Wilbur Young, Oliver Robinson and Marvin Gross. He also gets a few carries in a running game led by Coleman Blackston, JaQuan Holt and Paki Brown.
"I'm a team person," Carlos said. "I always back my team up. I'm always telling them, 'I got you no matter what.' On defense, we all gang tackle. All of us on offense, if the ball's not in your hands, you're blocking until the whistle blows. We play as a team."
Quarterback William Crest, who leads the Poets with seven touchdowns, confirmed that Carlos is a good teammate, as well as a constant scoring threat.
"He's very humble," Crest said. "He understands his role and what he has to do and when his number is dialed, he's ready to show up. Not a lot of people around Baltimore City know who Carlos is, but when he gets his time to shine, he does. He's very fast and he's shifty and once he gets in the open field, it's a wrap."