- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Dee Dowis finished sixth in voting for the Heisman Trophy in 1989. Beau Morgan holds the school record for total yards and finished 10th in the Heisman seven years later. He also was the first player in NCAA history to rush and pass for 1,000 yards in each of two seasons.

Morgan’s brother, Blaine, followed him and won 23 games in two seasons. Mike Thiessen was the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year in 2000. Most recently, Chance Harridge finished with more than 2,000 yards passing and rushing.

It’s a quite a list — the pipeline of great option quarterbacks who have starred for coach Fisher DeBerry at Air Force. And yet current freshman Shaun Carney could be the best of them all.

“For the kid’s sake, you try to not talk about long-term stuff like that,” said assistant coach Blaine Morgan. “He’s an even-keeled kid. It’s like he has experience that he shouldn’t have. When he sees something once, he picks it right up.”

Carney also has an advantage no other Falcons quarterback has had.

On Sept.4 he became the first freshman in academy history to start his first game when the Falcons tangled with then-No.13 California. Carney quickly picked up one of the most complicated offenses in the country and got his chance when Harridge’s heir apparent, Adam Fitch, ruptured his right Achilles’ tendon during spring drills. Carney then beat out junior Andy Gray for the job and remains the starter although Fitch is healthy.

“I’m pretty pleased with the guy we have,” DeBerry said when a writer jokingly told him there was a guy in Greece who could run the triple option. “He’s been our leading ball carrier, and he’s made some great plays. He’s completing 70 percent of his passes. I wouldn’t trade him for anybody else in the country right now.”

Through four games, Carney is nearly on pace for a 1,000/1,000 season — the standard by which Air Force quarterbacks are measured. He leads the Flacons (2-2) with 296 rushing yards, and has thrown for 525 more.

There certainly wasn’t any time to ease Carney into the job. Air Force played two ranked teams (California and No.14 Utah) in its first four games.

“I think we’re getting a lot better,” Carney said. “There were a lot of positive signs [against Utah, a 49-35 loss]. When things were going well, we were moving the ball against a good defense.”

Carney, an Olmstead, Ohio, native, isn’t a “true” freshman. He spent last season at Air Force Prep School in Colorado Springs, and gained a year’s worth of experience running a truncated version of DeBerry’s offense.

But that’s all the option work Carney had. After all, he was a pass-first quarterback for his high school, St. Edward — a power in the talent rich Cleveland area. And yet Carney’s athleticism attracted not only DeBerry but Navy coach Paul Johnson. In fact, Carney made an official visit to Annapolis.

“We watched him on tape and thought he was a good athlete,” said Johnson, who will coach against Carney for the first time tomorrow night at Falcon Stadium. “He throws the ball well. We thought he was a good player.”

Carney’s background is not unprecedented for Air Force. The Morgan brothers prepped at Trinity Christian High in Addison, Texas, where the option wasn’t a part of the offense.

“Without a doubt, he reminds me of myself,” Morgan said. “He’s not going to beat anybody in a 40 [-yard] race, but he’s crafty enough to make some plays. I didn’t run [the option] at all in high school — I probably ran for 200 yards, or even less than that. I threw the ball around a bit in high school, and kind of added the option a little at a time here at the academy.”

Carney has had quite a baptism in major college football, but it’s difficult to prepare a cadet for his first academy rivalry game. He learned of its importance to the Commander In Chief’s Trophy, which goes to the academy with the best record against the other two.

“Our coaches were players here from the year before,” Carney said. “They were really angry when they heard the [Navy-Air Force] score. I said, ‘Wow, we have a game ourselves tomorrow.’ You can tell by reactions like that that this game is important.”

Air Force has won 15 of 20 CIC trophies, but Dowis and Beau Morgan, the only three-year starters in the DeBerry era, were a part of a team that lost it. Carney doesn’t want to be a part of their legacy and looks forward to his first Navy game tomorrow as the Falcons try to regain what they have come to believe is rightfully theirs.

“I probably won’t understand the full meaning until after Thursday, but I know there’s a trophy case in our weight room with nothing in it but a picture of the Navy players holding the trophy,” Carney said. “This game means more to people in our faculty and our alumni than any game of the season.”

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