Coach: 'He doesn't play like a freshman'

Updated: August 24, 2004, 1:20 PM ET
Associated Press

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- In a surprise, Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry has named freshman Shawn Carney as the starting quarterback in the Sept. 4 season opener against No. 13 California.

"He doesn't play like a freshman," DeBerry said Monday. "Shawn has a lot of poise and a lot of confidence. He makes plays and gets us into the end zone. The staff and I concur that Carney gives us the best chance to beat California."

Carney will be the first freshman quarterback at Air Force to start the season. The last freshman to start at quarterback was Dee Dowis in the season finale against BYU in 1986.

Air Force freshmen not only have to learn the playbook but go through basic training in July. Junior Andy Gray was considered a favorite for the quarterback job after junior Adam Fitch ruptured an Achilles tendon in spring practice.

Carney, however, has steadily improved. The 5-9, 190-pound Carney from North Olmstead, Ohio, was especially impressive leading the team during last Saturday's practice.

"I've been dreaming about this," Carney said. "I know what I'm doing and I'm confident in my abilities. I think a big part of [winning the starting job] was the success I had Saturday running and passing and moving the ball."

Carney's confidence has helped spark the whole team.

"I would have never thought I'd have that attention and respect from the team this early," Carney said. "I think they're ready to follow me."

Though he's a freshman, Carney is no stranger to Air Force's option offense. Last season, he played an identical system as the starter on the academy's prep school team.

Gray will back up Carney, while Fitch, who returns to practice this week, will take up the third-string spot.

"My role now depends on when I got an opportunity to play, and I've got to be ready for that," Gray said. "Until then, I'm going to support Shawn and push him to be better."

DeBerry said Carney will be given the chance to work through his inevitable growing pains.

"We realize that he will probably make mistakes," DeBerry said. "We don't expect him or any other player to do everything. We just expect them to go out and work within our team concept."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press