DRAPER — Xavier Carlton wasn’t completely foreign to Utah.
A native of the Salt Lake Valley, Carlton moved with his mother, Lorraine, and father, Demetrius, — a former University of Utah linebacker in 1989 — to his father’s home state of California when he was young and attended Modesto Christian School near the Bay Area for his first three years of high school.
But when his mother received a promotion at work that required her to relocate to Salt Lake City, she brought along her teenage son and enrolled him at Juan Diego Catholic High School in Draper.
"We're a family unit," Lorraine Carlton told Front Row Preps in California back in June. "I'm not going to leave my son out here to live with friends. We’re a family unit and the plan is to move back to Salt Lake City."
However it happened, the Soaring Eagle is glad they came.
The 6-foot-7, 235-pound defensive end has been one of the stars of Juan Diego, who open the Class 3A state quarterfinals at 4 p.m. MDT Friday against top-seeded North Sanpete. He’s also been one of the stars of Utah high school football. A four-star recruit by 247 Sports, Carlton has offers from Cal, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, USC and Utah, among others, to play football at the next level.
But he’s hardly thinking about that right now.
For Carlton, the key to his senior season is inscribed on his helmet before every game: remember to have fun. It’s what his mother told him before the move, what his father tells him every week, and what his grandmother who has lived in Salt Lake City his whole life always tells him, too.
"Just enjoy your senior year before I head off to college, and enjoy that part of my four years," Carlton said. "I love this team, and I love my teammates. They’ve done so much for me."
"Have fun" has been a good reminder for Carlton and his Soaring Eagle teammates. Juan Diego finished with a 4-5 record in 2019 but opened the Utah High School Activities Association 3A state playoffs with a 42-7 home win over Delta.
And whenever the Soaring Eagle, who are just three years removed from back-to-back state titles, have a big win, you can bet their strongside defensive end who occasionally moonlights at tight end is at the center of it — just like he’s at the center of the team’s rosary prayer that follows every game.
The No. 2-rated recruit in the state of Utah is all about having fun. And while he may be the "nicest kids you'll ever meet" off the field, he's not afraid to mix it up on the turf, Juan Diego coach John Colosimo said.
The Soaring Eagle has a bit of a history of finding diamonds in the rough and developing them. This isn't one of those stories.
"A lot of teams have tried to run away from him because of his size, length and speed. He can really dictate where teams go," Colosimo said. "Those first few practices in full pads, we could see what he could do. His ferociousness came out, but he’s the nicest, sweetest kid you’ll ever meet.
"He’ll knock someone down, but then help someone up."
Having fun and a team-first mentality has also helped Carlton focus on his senior season, instead of the whirlwind that is prep football recruiting.
Carlton, who calls his parents "the CEOs" of his recruiting, has opted not to take an official visit to his target schools before the end of his senior season. He’s got Cal’s Nov. 16 date against USC circled on his calendar but hasn’t officially met with a coach or recruiting coordinator on campus yet.
That includes the Utes, the alma mater of his father, who remain dedicated in targeting the coveted pass rusher.
"They (my parents) help me a lot, after my dad went through this and knew the ins and outs of every coach," Carlton said. "The big thing he told me was to focus on football first, and then after the season go take those visits."
Education will play a significant role in Carlton’s ultimate destination. He plans to study communications with an emphasis in sports broadcasting, so the Pac-12 is a natural fit with its opportunities.
But for now, his focus remains on the season — and helping his team, including his teammates on the defensive line, get better.
"Our other kids on the defensive line are pretty good, too," Colosimo said. "Sometimes they get the sack just because he’s freed them up.
"He's quite a force out there."