When 23 players suited up for the Carson High football team on Sept. 30 for a game at Hug, it could be viewed as a microcosm of what's happening in prep sports at many athletic programs.
But at such a large school as Carson - with an enrollment of well over 2,500 students - it sticks out like a sore thumb when the numbers are so low in varsity football. It's not a new problem. It hasn't been uncommon for Carson teams to suite up less than 30 players for a game for some time now.
And it's not just a problem limited to football. While participation in Carson High sports generally remains high, there have been times where numbers have been low in sports other than football.
There's also no denying that many in the community can't understand why a school as large as Carson doesn't have more success in football - and in athletics in general.
It should be noted, though, that Carson has had its share of success - on and off the field. Carson's athletic teams have won more NIAA 4A State academic titles than any other school in which they finish with the highest cumulative grade point average among all the state's 4A teams.
Carson football coach Shane Quillling described the status of Senator athletics when he said, "We haven't been highly successful. It's not like we've been horrible. But we haven't been great."
When it comes to the problems that are affecting Carson sports, coaches at the school have concluded that the problems they are having are the same problems that any high school program has.
The coaches also agree that there's no magic elixir. "It's hard to pinpoint here," said Carson assistant basketball coach Carlos Mendeguia, commenting that it's many problems, not just one that affects high school sports.
"It's not just one thing like Carlos says, it's a combination of a lot of things," Quilling also said.
But Quilling admits that he's never encountered the problems he's faced in other places he's coached to the degree he's faced them in Carson.
"This is a tough place. I've been at a lot of places," said Quilling, who has also coached in Texas, Colorado, Utah and Montana. "This is a different place. There's a lot of things that happen that don't happen in a lot of places."
While the coaches agree that there are many problems that affect Carson sports, to consensus seems to be that the biggest problem is this - not enough of the elite athletes at the school play more than one sport. But for whatever reason, this syndrome seems to have a more negative effect at Carson than other schools.
Specialization is a problem that affects all high schools and it begins as early in the fourth grade when club coaches may tell parents their child has a chance to earn a scholarship in a particular sport. Coaches at Carson say youths should play as many sports as possible to develop as many athletic skills as possible before they enter high school.
Coaches at Carson note that in most cases, Division I coaches are looking for multi-talented athletes and not necessarily those who just specialize in one sport.
"Coaches like to see them doing other things," Carson boys basketball coach Bruce Barnes said. "I just don't know if kids believe this."
Carson's coaches do admit that with the offseason condition that's required in many sports, that the days of the three-sport high school athlete are practically over. But they do say that the elite athletes should be playing at least two sports.
The coaches also say they work with each other to make it as manageable as possible for athletes to play more than one sport. "But it's still doable," Mendeguia said. "It's just all about time management."
But Barnes also admitted with girlfriends or boyfriends, jobs and other factors, it's becoming harder and harder for athletes to play more than one sport.
The coaches, though, also say if all the elite athletes at Carson played more than one sport, it would have a major impact. "We'll compete in every sport," Quilling said.
"I think it would obviously make a dramatic difference," Barnes said. "It would definitely make a difference. It would have to make a difference."
Barnes said he believes there are seven or eight athletes in the school that would have started for the football team, but didn't go out. "It's sad," he said. "I wish I had the answer for this because it would help us all."
He did say that the community's youth football program should eventually help Quilling's program. But while Quilling said youth football isn't a total fix.
"There's a little bit of correlation, but not a lot," said Quilling about how much Pop Warner helps high school. "High school is different than Pop Warner. High school is different than middle school basketball."
Barnes also noted that are athletes who should be coming out for basketball, but aren't playing the sport.
Mendeguia said several athletes have dropped basketball in an effort to earn a Division I scholarship in another sport. He also said that none of those athletes have gone on to earn a Division I scholarship.
There's no question that in football, Carson needs larger numbers to be more successful and that's the dilemma. To be more successful, the program needs more players, but to have more players the program needs to be more successful.
Quilling noted that the coach he replaced, Bob Bateman, had a successful run from 1993-1998 and that he's been frustrated that he hasn't been able to duplicate that run.
"They had some great kids," Quilling said. "Their numbers weren't great then. We've had some great kids."
But Quilling said he hasn't had enough, although he hopes that changes. There were 33-34 sophomores in the program this year and Quilling said if the program can keep 25-26 of them for their junior and senior years, that should make a difference.
"As soon as we have some kids we'll compete with anybody," Quilling said. "We need the kids to come out to take it to the next level."
Despite a year in which Carson went 4-6 and missed the playoffs for the third straight season, Quilling defends what his program has done. He also said while he believes changes need to be made in the community that overall the community has been supportive.
"I think it's a great community," he said. "I love living here. I don't plan on leaving."
Whether he's still the coach or not. "I think it all falls on me eventually," Quilling said. "And it should.
"Somebody has to take the blame. If they think I'm the problem, that's their right to make a change. I won't resign. I'm not going to quit. I'm not a quitter."
Quilling noted that out of 14 Northern 4A teams this season, his club ranked No. 6 in offense and defense.
"It's not the offense," said Quilling about why his team hasn't had as much success. "Our offense was pretty darn good. It's not our schemes."
Quilling said he and all the school's coaches are doing all the work that's needed to be done to make the teams as successful as possible. "We all have solid programs," he said. "We do the extra things, spend the time."
The coaches also noted that parents are a problem at times, but said that by and large parents have also been supportive.
Mendeguia said the basketball coaches have an open door policy when it comes to parents and Quilling said he has the same policy.
"All they've got to do as a parent is come ask," Quilling said. "My door is always open. Every coach's door is open."
Mendeguia summed it up with this sentiment. "We want the best teams for Carson High."