'I liked her, and she liked me back': Auburn's star kicker prepares for his wedding day
Katherine Barker, a freshman at the time, drove from her dorm in The Hill to South Donahue where she picked up her date for the night, Daniel Carlson.
He directed her to The Hound on a Monday night for dinner — their first date — unaware that the restaurant was closed, a surprise to them both. They drove around, tried one more spot that didn't pan out and landed at a small Italian restaurant on South College.
Both agreed dinner was awkward and Barker's choice of spaghetti wasn't the best in the end. It wasn't your typical "Lady and the Tramp" kind of scenario.
"After dinner, I guess he wanted to keep hanging out," Barker said. He asked her, "Do you want to go to Walmart?"
Carlson lived in the dorms without a car and wasn't able to get groceries often, so they continued their date under Walmart's fluorescent lights. He got a gallon of milk and headed toward the toy section where he found a bouncy ball making kit.
Their date ended with a bouncy-ball-making party in Leischuck Hall with Barker's roommates and Auburn's soon-to-be star kicker.
Just a few years after their "train wreck of a date" Carlson popped the question, and their wedding is set for Jan. 13, 2018, just after the scheduled championship game.
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The two met their freshman year through her sorority sisters and his football buddies. Carlson said they dated that year but were never serious.
"I was young and immature and wasn't looking for anything serious at the time," Carlson said. "The timing wasn't great, so we stayed friends through sophomore year."
They had feelings for each other all through sophomore year, Barker said. Carlson was always careful to make sure he didn't push too much in order to keep things casual and platonic.
"I used to Snapchat her because I felt like if I just texted her out of the blue that would be too 'Uh oh,' and I wanted to keep things friendly," Carlson said.
Barker never saw him as the football star most of the campus saw him as — he was just her friend from freshman year. She said he was different and a gentleman, no matter the situation. Carlson was stuck on her all through their second year of college, saying she was the sweetest girl he'd ever met.
"I could tell she was someone I wanted to be around," Carlson said.
Exactly a year since they had seen each other last, Carlson and Barker were studying for finals at the end of their sophomore year when they both got immediate cravings for Krispy Kreme donuts. At the time, the closest store was a 45-minute drive to Montgomery.
"Let's take a quick drive," Carlson joked with Barker.
"We were both joking about it but neither of us wanted to call the bluff, and we wanted the chance to hang out more," Carlson said.
Barker packed up her computer, sat in the front seat of Carlson's truck and studied on the way to Montgomery. The two got home around 3 a.m. from their adventure and knew they had a decision to make.
Barker was leaving Auburn for the summer to be a swim coach in Knoxville, where she lives now, and Carlson was stuck in Auburn. On a trip back to Auburn, Carlson met with Barker for coffee and admitted he still had feelings for her.
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"I liked her, and she liked me back, but I was stuck five hours away from her," Carlson said.
With part of their summer apart remaining, they agreed to hold off until they lived in the same city, which quickly shifted.
"We were calling each other every night and finally I said, 'This is dumb, can we start dating officially?'" Carlson said.
Two years later and Barker is selecting a color scheme, the perfect wedding dress and the two, at the time of their interview with The Plainsman, were sitting in Carlson's truck outside of a FedEx preparing to send out their Save-The-Date cards.
Carlson said Barker thought it would have been a little less than two years, as he figured she assumed every weekend might bring a proposal. But he had the plan in mind and passed up a proposal opportunity in Paris, even.
He felt it had to happen when her friends and family could be a part of the celebration. Carlson spent the week leading up to July 8 driving to his grandparent's house, setting the scene on their large, outdoor porch.
Candles leading up to the porch with flowers, lights and decorations all around. Barker was under the impression that she had to drive five hours from Knoxville to see Carlson's sick grandmother. It was all a fib.
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Carlson parked the truck around front as usual and led Barker to the back yard.
They followed the burning candles to the bottom deck of the porch where a bench with a note and bible were waiting.
Carlson read the note to her aloud, got on one knee and asked her to marry him. Her reply was quick.
The surprises weren't over and when they entered the house, both families were waiting to celebrate.
After dinner with the family, Barker's friends from Auburn arrived to join the celebration.
"It's not going to be a huge wedding, but it's not going to be small and intimate," Barker said. "I want to make sure that the people that love us, that we are close to and those that got us where we are today, are there."
The two said they aren't fans of the long distance they currently endure but are looking forward to being married and spending forever together.
"I love Kat a whole lot," Carlson said.