Brion Carnes has proven he doesn't scare easily.
When he finished his career as a four-year starting quarterback for Manatee High, Carnes signed with Nebraska instead of going to a school where he would have been the guy to beat out.
Western Kentucky, then under Willie Taggart, wanted Carnes badly. USF offered him a scholarship as a sophomore, and the Bulls offense seemed a perfect fit for his dual-threat talents.
But Carnes wanted to follow local legend Tommie Frazier, a Manatee quarterback who won consecutive national championships at Nebraska.
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When he got tired of being the understudy to Taylor Martinez after three years at Nebraska, Carnes could've chosen a school where the
quarterback position was open.
It would've made sense, but despite his quiet demeanor Carnes apparently loves a challenge.
Last summer, he picked the University of Northern Iowa, which had Sawyer Kollmorgen coming off a celebrated season that saw him named the Football Championship Subdivision co-freshman of the year after throwing 21 TD passes and earning a 141.88 quarterback rating.
"I figured I would have competition anywhere I went, and I felt comfortable here on my visit," Carnes said Wednesday from the UNI campus in Cedar Fall, Iowa. "It is one of the top programs in Division I-AA. I wanted to be part of it and help the team anyway I could. The coach told me I had to compete for the quarterback job, but I already knew that."
The UNI coaches were reluctant to make a change, and Carnes spent most of this season as a jack of all trades, playing receiver and returning punts, among other things.
"It was pretty cool," Carnes said.
The junior got his first start at quarterback for UNI against ninth-ranked (FCS) Youngstown State after Kollmorgen suffered his second concussion.
Carnes made the most of his opportunity, completing 18 of 30 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns while running for 65 yards in sparking the Panthers to a 22-20 upset victory.
UNI head coach Mark Farley praised Carnes for giving his offense a new look with his ability to move the ball with his legs.
"I'd probably give him ... he'd be a B-plus category: B-plus or A-minus,'" Farley said. "We got the win, No. 1. That's critical. But he moved the chains with his feet. I mean, he really ran the ball well. He got more confidence as the game went on, and I think he started seeing stuff better. He had a couple of touch passes he had to throw and hard balls he had to throw. I thought he did an awesome job."
Carnes followed up the Youngstown game by leading UNI to a 17-10 victory over Missouri State last week, throwing for 120 yards and running 41. As a starter, he is 2-0 for the 6-5 Panthers, throwing for 370 yards and completing 54.4 percent of his passes.
Farley said planned to use both quarterbacks against Missouri State, but decided to stick with Carnes.
In the game-winning drive against Youngstown, Carnes converted a fourth down on a quarterback sneak and threw two third-down completions to keep the chains moving. The win broke a five-game losing streak, UNI's longest in 35 years.
Carnes wasn't told he was going to start against Missouri State until game day. The situation is likely to be the same Saturday when the Panthers play their regular season finale at home against Western Illinois.
"We will see how the week goes," Farley said. "Brion has the same calls as Sawyer, but I think you see the difference in the two offenses depending on the quarterback. It doesn't look the same in the throwing game, and it doesn't look the same in the running game.
"Who plays (quarterback) this week a lot will have to do with who is in the offense to go with him. After I see how they (WIU defenders) actually play their defense, we will see who is our better option. Right now, it could be either just like last week."
Carnes has proven to be a genuine dual-threat quarterback, and is the Panthers' second-leading rusher with 215 yards.
"It feels good to be back on my feet playing quarterback again. I was a little nervous in the first start, but after a few snaps I was ready to go," Carnes said.
UNI assistant coach Daniel Bullocks got to know Carnes when he was an assistant at Nebraska. He influenced Carnes to sign with UNI, convincing both sides this was a win-win situation.
"It was frustrating not being able to play at Nebraska," Carnes said. "I wanted to give spring ball one last chance, but when I saw things weren't going to change I decided it was best for me to leave and find a place where I had an opportunity to get on the field.
"I talked to Tommie and he told me to follow my heart. He felt it was kind of a good idea to leave. But I have no regrets about going to Nebraska."
Except for the smaller crowds, Carnes says there isn't that much difference between I-A and I-AA football. His Panthers defeated Big 12 Iowa State, where he got to meet former high school teammates Quenton Bundrage and Darius White.