Army Sgt. Mike Carlson, a two-sport star at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, died in Iraq this week, becoming the 15th Minnesotan to die since the war began.
He "was a real nice kid. He's somebody whose life didn't deserve to end like this," said Mike Scanlan, a head football coach at Cretin-Derham.
Carlson, who would have turned 23 on Valentine's Day, had been in Iraq for almost a year and had been due to return to his unit's home base in Germany next week, KSTP-TV reported.
It was not known when or where Carlson was killed in Iraq. His death had not been announced by the Defense Department as of Friday night.
His older brother, Dan Carlson, told the station that their parents were away on a cruise when a military representative showed up at their home with the news Thursday, and that they were on their way home Friday night.
Carlson was a defensive lineman on Cretin's 1999 state champion football team and was an all-conference wrestler. He graduated in 2000.
His football and wrestling teammate Ricky Schreier said he looked up to Carlson as a role model.
"He talked about joining the service ever since I'd known him," Schreier said Friday night. "He wanted to do that most, and when he finally had the opportunity, he followed through."
Schreier said Carlson, who was two years older, watched out for him at football and wrestling practice, and even in the school halls. "When I was a freshman, I only weighed a hundred pounds,"
Schreier recalled. "People would throw me into the lockers, joking around, and he would always tell them to stop."
Other wrestlers would go to Carlson for pointers and advice, and even in high school, he was beginning to exhibit leadership qualities, Schreier said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Joy Powell is at firstname.lastname@example.org