When asked to describe freshman forward Jon Carlos ’09, men’s soccer captain Shannon Brooks ’06 summed him up with one word: happy.

“He’s always smiling, even when we’re running wind sprints,” Brooks said. “Even when things aren’t going well, I’ve never seen him in a bad mood.”

But when a rookie has already established himself as a key spark plug for an improving team, it is easy to see why he would be having such a good time. Despite starting the season as a substitute, the standout from Southbury, Conn. quickly earned a spot in the Bulldogs’ starting rotation. But Carlos has not been content with just being a starter. Rather, he has rapidly emerged as a go-to guy in the Eli offense. In 10 games, Carlos — the second-leading scorer behind forward Alex Munns ’07 — has two goals and three assists.

In an often moderate-tempo game, Carlos quickly stands out — and not just for his Screech-like hair. Easily one of the fastest players on the team, Carlos has shown an uncanny ability to make plays. It seems as though the speedy freshman is at the center of almost every Eli offensive push, breaking free down the sideline, ready to make something happen.

But it would be a mistake to say that Carlos relies solely on his athleticism. His burgeoning chemistry with Munns illustrates a natural feel for the game. A consistent offensive play for the Elis has become Carlos getting the ball on the right flank and finding a streaking Munns in the middle. Munns attributes this pattern to Carlos’ ability to understand his position.

“It’s purely positional,” Munns said. “He reads the game really well and reads crosses really well. Almost all of those plays have been off of a run that he made, then he just finds me tucking into the middle. He has a good feel for the position.”

But what is even better news for the Bulldogs is that Carlos is steadily improving. His best game of the season thus far was the Ivy opener against rival Harvard, a performance that earned him Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors. Not only did Carlos notch a goal and an assist, but he constantly patrolled the sideline and dominated the open field as well.

Carlos has also made great strides in his defense. At times early in the season, he would seem hesitant in one-on-one situations. But now he is more aggressive, attacking the ball before it comes to him.

“His one-on-one defending is phenomenal,” Munns said. “It’s to the point where teams almost stop trying to attack down [his] side.”

Carlos himself recognizes improvements in his game.

“I think I’m playing much faster now, and with my head up,” he said. “All the coaches and older players have just helped me with my confidence level, just talking to me, giving me tips along the way.”

Due to the departures of key starters from last year, the Bulldogs have relied heavily on a batch of pups to take the lead. And while expectations were high for Carlos and the rest of the freshman class, his performance has raised eyebrows.

“We knew they could be a class that could make an impact early on in the season,” Brooks said. “We knew they could get on a roll, but I don’t know if there were expectations for individual guys. He’s definitely stepped up and has been excellent.”

Despite the early success, Carlos is not satisfied. He is determined to continue his progress and help his team reach its goal of winning the Ivies. But for now, he is happy.

“I’m playing with a great group of guys,” Carlos said. “When one of us is down or is not having a good day, once we get on the field, all is forgotten. It’s just about soccer and having a good time.”