Oxford Hills quarterback Colton Carson improved dramatically in his second year as starter and was named the Class A North Player of the Year. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

PARIS — Baseball is still Colton Carson’s passion. 

The Oxford Hills senior is still on track to be one of the best high school pitchers in the state and is committed to the University of Maine next fall to play baseball. 

But football is Carson’s focus right now, and has been since preseason. And he doesn’t want it to end.

“It mostly has to do with my team here,” Carson said. “We’re close. We bond well and, I don’t know, we just win. We have since middle school.”

Playing three sports every year with the same group of friends since middle school tends to make one want to savor every moment of his senior year. Carson has become more attached to football, however, and admits he would be intrigued by college football recruiters knocking on his door.

Don’t worry, though, Maine baseball fans. He’s still excited about calling Larry Mahaney Diamond his home field next year.

“I’m really looking forward to going to Maine,” said Carson, who made his official visit to the Orono campus recently. “I know most of the guys up there now and I’m really comfortable with the coaches and I love the campus.”

It’s easy to figure out why football has become more the object of his affection this season, starting with the fact that the Vikings are playing in the Class A North championship game Friday night at Portland.

Carson’s growth, mentally and physically (he grew a couple of inches over the summer to 6-foot-6), as a quarterback is the biggest reason why Oxford Hills is a victory away from its first regional title since 1999. 

Named the Class A North Player of the Year last week, Carson said the biggest difference from last year, his first as the starting varsity QB, is his understanding of the game.

“I think in any sport it’s mental, and confidence and preparation help with anything,” Carson said. “That’s just made me become more comfortable with our offense and the whole program, but the game of football as a whole. I feel like I understand the game so much better now. I’ll be watching college football or NFL and I’ll read the coverages and see what they’re in and what would be open. Last year, I would not have anything to do with that.”

Oxford Hills coach Mark Soehren said the change in Carson’s understanding started last year, when senior running back Dawson Stevens, who the Vikings had built much of their offense around, was sidelined by injury.

Needing to get the ball in the hands of their next-best athlete, the Vikings tweaked the offense to suit Carson.

“I knew once Dawson got hurt last year and Colton started running that our offense would be centered around Colton,” Soehren said. “And I think he just really understood it, and the more he understood, the more we could teach him.” 

The instruction included changes to the scheme and Carson’s throwing mechanics to make him a more consistent passer and not just a bomb thrower. Soehren and quarterback coach Kenny Poulin simplified some of the offensive concepts and also shortened his throwing motion, which, not surprisingly, was akin to a pitcher winding up.

“It sometimes messed up my accuracy,” Carson said. “We worked on it this summer, (keeping the ball) up by my ear and shortening my delivery. It’s made a world of difference and I can still throw deep.”

Carson’s completion percentage inflated from 35 percent last year to 48 percent this year, and he topped the 1,000-yard mark during the regular season with eight touchdowns and six interceptions.

“It’s rare to have a kid that is as athletic and as tall as he is and can throw like he can,” Soehren said. “The kids know when Colton is on and he’s throwing that we’re a very difficult team to stop.”

It’s also rare to have someone that tall run like Carson does, with a combination of power and elusiveness. He’s the Vikings’ leading rusher, and tops among A North quarterbacks (fourth overall), with 686 yards and a conference-leading 16 touchdowns during the regular season.

Of course, Carson may have had a hand in keeping other conference QBs from challenging those numbers as a fast, physical safety who has five interceptions this year. 

While he is generally one of the more quiet Vikings, Carson is clearly their spark. As a future Division I athlete, he gives them confidence. His humility makes him easy for the players and coaches to rally around. And it’s very apparent when the Vikings are feeding off of him, and vice versa.

“Our skill position guys, we trust each other, which helps tremendously,” he said. “And our line is always good. It’s always stable and I trust them completely.”

“When everything is going well, no one says anything, but you sense it. You sense that people are ready to do their job and they’ll do anything for you and they’ll have your back,” he added. “They know if we do everything right, we will get done what needs to be done.”

Oxford Hills quarterback Colton Carson drops back to pass during the first half of the 2018 season opener against Lewiston. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

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