Moving to a new school just before senior year can be tough. Moving and trying to replace one legend while being coached by another could be disastrous.
Greenback is a tight-knit community, as well, but social media helped Braden Carnes break the ice there.
“I looked on (Carnes’) Twitter when I found out he was coming,” Greenback receiver Holden Willis said. “One of the top things on his Twitter was a 60-yard bomb he threw at a camp, right on the money. I was like ‘Dang. Well if he’s coming, we’ll take him.’”
Now with good friends and excellent mentors, Carnes seems to have made a smooth transition in his move from Maryville.
The on-field help of Willis and other teammates, along with mentoring from two of the greatest quarterbacks in school history, has helped Carnes be well on his way to breaking several records.
More importantly, Carnes is leading Greenback into the second round of the TSSAA Class 1A state playoffs with hopes for a return to Cookeville for its fifth championship game appearance. The Cherokees play host to region foe Coalfield at 7 p.m. Friday.
Greenback runs a complicated and unique offense. Carnes was assisted with new schemes over the summer by one of the best operators of that offense, last year’s quarterback Bryce Hanley.
Now playing baseball at Carson-Newman, Hanley was the 2018 Class 1A Mr. Football and led Greenback to deep playoff runs including a state title in 2017.
“It’s hard to come in and try to take over a team, especially when the last quarterback was Mr. Football,” Carnes said. “But (Hanley) helped me a lot over the summer and this fall. He’s really helped me learn the offense a lot quicker.”
Coming from outside meant not having a deep knowledge of Greenback football tradition, but Hanley and coach Greg Ryan got Carnes up to speed quickly.
Ryan was also a Greenback quarterback, finishing his Cherokee career in 1992 with eight state passing records. Ryan went on to star at East Tennessee State University, where he still holds virtually every team passing mark.
The tutoring by all the greats would mean nothing if Carnes didn’t have the right teammates.
And he is surrounded by weapons.
Carnes has already set school records for total yardage in the air (3,131) and for touchdown passes in a season (45). Seven receivers have hauled in scoring strikes, but the chief Cherokee is Willis.
The two seniors worked over the summer to gain familiarity. Willis, already the all-time Greenback reception leader, is moving quickly up the standings in state records for touchdown catches.
Willis had one touchdown grab in last week’s 51-6 undressing of Unaka. That reception, his 24th this season, moved him into third place overall in state records. Two more receptions put him into a tie with leader Nathan Johnson, who set the record at Independence in 2015.
His 40 career touchdown receptions have Willis currently with the sixth-best record in Tennessee history.
The records are more impressive considering Greenback had six lopsided victories with the clock running continuously in the second half and Carnes, Willis and other starters on the sidelines.
And Greenback is by no means a pass-crazy offense. While the 3,131 passing yards account for most production, Greenback has added 1,184 yards on the ground. In the win over Unaka, leading rusher Wyatt Ruterson ran for 126 yards with three scores and an 18 yard-per-carry average.
Carnes and Willis are excited to pursue the records but have a bigger goal in mind.
“There’s a lot more than breaking the record,” Willis said. “Touchdowns help on the field more than they do in the stat book. I’d rather have one touchdown and win the game than have 10 and lose it.”
Greenback continues its quest for a third state championship against a Region 2-1A foe it defeated 45-20 in the regular season.
Record alert: Carnes threw for five touchdowns in that game.