Greenback School star quarterback Braden Carnes always dreamed of playing at the Division 1 level.
After months of silence on his recruitment, Carnes jumped on a preferred walk-on offer and committed to the University of Louisville Cardinals on March 10.
“The first thing that went to my head was how blessed I was, just how thankful I was for the opportunity and how thankful I was for Greenback and everyone that helped me get to this point,” Carnes said. “Really, I was just super excited after going up there and touring the facilities and watching them have a spring practice, and that just really made me want to commit. I was ready to go, ready to compete.”
Carnes transferred to Greenback over the summer from Maryville High School, where he started 12 of 14 games, completed 72 percent of his passes for 1,441 yards, 11 touchdowns and one interception and helped guide the Rebels to the 2018 Class 6A state championship.
He faced high expectations going into his senior season because he would have to replace two-time All-State quarterback and 2018 Tennessee Titans Class 1A Mr. Football winner Bryce Hanley.
Carnes cemented himself in the Greenback and Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association history books in just one season after becoming only the second quarterback in TSSAA history to throw for more than 50 touchdowns in a single season.
“The transition, it went pretty smooth and, obviously, I was a little nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. I knew a couple of people in Greenback but very few,” Carnes said. “Once I got down there, they made me feel like my family. I couldn’t be where I’m at without my teammates, my coaches, really the whole community of Greenback. They backed me and supported me through everything.”
He led all quarterbacks in Tennessee with 4,141 passing yards and 52 touchdowns en route to leading the Cherokees to their fourth Class 1A BlueCross Bowl appearance in five years. He was named to the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Class 1A All-State first team.
“Braden not only has played fantastic for us at quarterback, but his whole family moving into the community, they’re all a huge impact and he comes from a really great family,” Greg Ryan, Greenback head football coach, said. “He’s one of these types of guys that wanted to come to Greenback and work to get better. Even though he transferred from Maryville, there was still some development he needed to make at the quarterback position, and he and I worked hard together. By mid-season, he got in really good form.”
Despite posting big numbers, Carnes’ recruitment seemed mostly quiet his senior year. He believes splitting time with Indiana State University commit Cade Chambers at Maryville and transferring to Greenback for one season hampered the process.
“Most quarterbacks get recruited early because most schools don’t sign but one or two quarterbacks, so they get on them, really start recruiting them heavy after sophomore year,” Carnes said. “With me coming from Maryville and transferring after my junior year, that kind of put me behind the eight ball a little bit. Coming to Greenback and being in Coach Ryan’s offense and having the great teammates that I did, that really helped.”
Though he received interest from a handful of smaller colleges, Carnes remained firm in his dream of playing at a Division 1 school.
“I was pretty confident it would happen, but I had to keep working and keep the faith,” he said. “I talked to a couple, but Louisville, once we started talking, they were pretty heavy. I talked to a couple of D2 schools as well that were really interested, but after talking with Coach (Frank) Ponce, who’s the quarterback coach up at Louisville, my position was pretty clear.”
After months of waiting and hearing little from other schools, an unlikely connection made the difference.
“I had talked to a graduate assistant a couple of times toward the end of the season, and Coach Ryan had helped me out with schools and really sent my film out there,” Carnes said. “Once I talked to him, they kept watching my film, kept evaluating me and we kept in touch. Then I got on the phone with the QB coach and talked to him, and he invited me up to campus for a little visit and then just from there on ... it really picked up, I would say, in the last two or three months.”
The Louisville coaching staff decided to grayshirt Carnes, which means he will serve as a walk-on this fall before being placed on scholarship next spring. The Cardinals signed their allotted 25 scholarship players for the 2020 class.
Louisville went 8-5 overall and finished second behind Clemson in the Atlantic division of the Atlantic Coast Conference under first-year head coach Scott Satterfield.
Satterfield previously spent six years as the head coach at Appalachian State, where he turned the Mountaineers into a perennial Sun Belt Conference powerhouse.
“They run an RPO spread offense that’s kind of similar to what we ran at Greenback, kind of run and gun, spreading the ball all over the field,” Carnes said. “That was something they told me that kind of drew me to them and just my arm talent and how similar our offenses are.”
Ryan believes Carnes will be able to adapt quickly at the next level.
“It’s all about his effort and want to, I know this, I’ve talked to a lot of different colleges and universities about Braden and my biggest thing I tell them is ... he’s a better athlete than I asked him to do,” Ryan said. “He can do a lot of different things on the football field. His football intelligence is just really, really good. It’s just going to be up to him. I think with his love of the game, he understands that he’s going to have to get himself in the offseason and wants to be in top condition by the time he gets there.”