From left: Stephen Carlson ’19; Jesper Horsted ’19
Beverly Schaefer
Princeton wide receivers Stephen Carlson ’19 and Jesper Horsted ’19 share more than just a penchant for scoring touchdowns. The classmates were multi-sport stars in high school (Carlson in western New York, Horsted in the Minneapolis suburbs). Each has a passion for music (Carlson plays saxophone, Horsted plays guitar). And at 6 feet, 4 inches and close to 225 pounds, each has the size and strength to draw the eyes of pro scouts.

“It’s pretty crazy, the similarities between us,” Horsted said. “You have to dig pretty deep to find the differences.”

Horsted was named the Minnesota High School Athlete of the Year by the St. Paul Pioneer Press as a three-sport star out of Shoreview, Minn. Carlson came from Jamestown, N.Y., where he’d played basketball and been the Connolly Cup recipient as the top football player in Western New York. They knew nothing of each other.

“I wasn’t even sure what his name was the first day of camp,” said Carlson, an ecology and evolutionary biology major. “I felt really bad about that.”

They became friends and lived together in the summer before their sophomore year, bonding over mutual interests in video games and a passion for music.

“We both played musical instruments for a long time growing up and brought that to Princeton,” said Horsted, a sociology major. “That’s a pretty big part of our lives. That’s not all that common on the football team.”

Horsted and Carlson have formed a terrific tandem on the field, combining for more than 1,300 receiving yards and 14 touchdown catches in the first seven games this year. Their numbers bring to mind the small and speedy duo of Derek Graham ’85 and Kevin Guthrie ’84, who combined for 2,581 receiving yards in 1983.

First-year receivers coach Mark Rosenbaum said the two “have a similar skill set with body type and being able to separate and use their big frames at the top of routes.” Horsted may have a little more speed, while Carlson is a bit better as a blocker. Both fit the mold of the new NFL receiver, and scouts have shown interest.

Head coach Bob Surace ’90, who spent eight years on the Cincinnati Bengals’ staff, noted that “the NFL has become a league of contested catches” — most receivers cannot rely on speed alone to break away from defensive backs. Teams are looking for “strong, dependable guys,” Surace said.

Horsted, Princeton’s career leader in touchdown receptions, is a three-year starter, while Carlson had his breakout season as a junior, when he caught 71 passes for 935 yards. “He’s a better player this year than he was last year,” Horsted said, “and a better player this game than last game. He’s always improving.”

Carlson, meanwhile, has been impressed by Horsted’s athleticism in two sports at Princeton — he’s also a star centerfielder for the baseball team. “It’s crazy [that] he can be one of the best players out on the field in football and a couple months later be one of the best players in baseball,” Carlson said.  

Carlson and Horsted lead the receiving corps together, quietly yet confidently, as the undefeated Tigers compete for the Ivy League title.

“They’re both good leaders in their own right,” Rosenbaum said. “When things go wrong, they’re there to pick it up. When things aren’t done right, they point out how to do things right. They’re both phenomenal.”