Playing in front of 66,000 crazed football fans, Brion Carnes stole the show.
The Manatee High product turned in the best performance among the quarterbacks in Nebraska’s spring game Saturday and had people attached to the program saying he might have moved himself into the backup role behind incumbent starter Taylor Martinez.
Carnes, a redshirt freshman in 2011, completed 11 of 15 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns without an interception for his White team, which lost 32-29.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder threw touchdown passes of 49 yards and 39 yards. He rushed for 40 yards on nine carries (with nine yards in losses) and had one run of 24 yards.
Carnes was the only quarterback to throw a touchdown pass and led all four signal callers in passing and rushing yardage.
Here is how the other quarterbacks did:
Martinez, a sophomore, was 4-of-13 with an interception for 52 yards and -1 yard rushing on two carries; Ron Kellogg III, a sophomore, was 11-of-19 passing for 124 yards (-12 rushing); and Cody Green, a junior, was 4-of-11 for 63 yards passing (-6 rushing).
Carnes showed the same poise and elusiveness he displayed throughout the spring, when he had coaches thinking he has the perfect type of quarterback to lead the Pistol offense the Cornhuskers implemented this spring.
“He (Carnes) did some good things. He shows flashes. He has a lot of ability, but he’s still swimming in it a little bit.” Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini said after the game. “Even as basic as we were today, there are a lot of things he needs to improve upon and can get better at. But you see signs that he’s going to be a good football player in time. I think he’s had a pretty good spring.”
Carnes has come a long way from that February of his senior year when he seemed to be changing verbal commitments as fast as they change tires in the Indy 500.
There was that long commitment to USF, then a change of heart to Western Kentucky among others and finally his commitment to Nebraska, which some people said was a mistake and unfairly orchestrated by former Huskers/Manatee High great Tommie Frazier.
In the end, Carnes stood firm and said he wanted to go to a big time program and play for a BCS championship. In Lincoln, he went into a hibernation of sorts, but after the spring game he is no longer a secret.
Carnes still has a ways to go, but his performance before a huge spring game crowd showed he is not a long shot anymore and does not get intimidated. There was a time in the game when the trainers wanted him to come out after taking a shot and he talked them out of it.
Manatee High assistant coach Chris Conboy is not surprised at how Carnes is starting to make his presence felt. He knew about a closed scrimmage last week when Carnes ran for two touchdowns and threw a TD pass.
“Brion is a pretty good athlete. He runs a 4.4 (40-yard dash) and is up to 200 pounds,” Conboy said. “Tommie (Frazier) said the coaches were impressed with him and if he keeps working hard a lot of things could happen. He is a good kid, works hard and does what he is told.
“Brion is not looking at the depth chart and believes everything else will fall into place if he keeps working. But he has started to create a buzz out there.”
Carnes has been praised by his teammates for not being scared to compete and being diligent about learning the playbook. Apparently he also has added some shiftiness, which fits him fine in the Pistol, first used in 2004 by University of Nevada head coach Chris Ault. Ault has turned it into somewhat of a new craze in college.
In the Pistol, the quarterback lines up four yards behind the center instead of seven in the shotgun and has a running back three yards behind him, unlike the shotgun, where the running back stands beside him. Last year, Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick ran for 1,200 yards and passed for more than 3,000.
Carnes even has experience running the Pistol. Manatee High ran a version of it when he was the Hurricanes quarterback, using Ben Axon and Shawn Williams as the running backs behind him.
Carnes is happy about choosing Nebraska even if the football doesn’t work out because that is where he felt most comfortable about getting his degree. He loves the coaching staff and everything about Lincoln, according to Conboy.
Best part: Things look like they could be working out.
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 745-2112.