GREENVILLE — What a difference a year can make.
Last season, Shane Carden watched from the sidelines as Rio Johnson started the season opener for East Carolina and had a decent debut against Appalachian State.
This season, Carden had statistically the best single-game performance ever by a Pirates starting quarterback, eclipsing his own records with 447 passing yards and five touchdowns in his first season opener.
Shane grew up tonight, teammate Justin Hardy said after ECU beat Old Dominion 52-38. Last year he didnt start at the beginning of the season and this year hes starting and everybody is clicking together. Hes a lot more comfortable.
Late last August, ECU announced Johnson had beaten Carden for the starting job. It wasnt until two weeks later following a 48-10 drubbing at the hands of South Carolina in which Johnson threw three interceptions that Carden took the reins. He hasnt let go.
With 11 starts, Carden, a 6-foot-2, 218-pound junior, already holds the two highest single game yardage records with 439 against Marshall last season and his 447 yards Saturday.
Im a lot more excited about the opportunity this year, Carden said. I want to get the offense going fast this season and get us rolling.
Making his own path
Carden was born in Newport Beach, Calif., before moving to Houston two hotbeds for high school football. Despite the heavy push from his father, Jay Carden, to continue playing baseball, Carden decided to give up the sport before his senior year at Episcopal High School to focus on football.
Jay was a pitcher for eight seasons from 1963-1970 with the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves and Montreal Expos organizations. Shanes brothers, Austin and Christopher, pitched in college.
With a baseball lineage that dates 50 years, Carden said it was difficult telling his father he wanted to pursue football.
When I sat down and talked to my dad about it he was pretty fired up to say the least, Carden said with a laugh. He didnt want me quitting something that I was good at more so than breaking any kind of traditions.
He told me he wanted a printed off workout schedule and wanted to know what my conditioning program was going to be. Thats just how he is and I think he wanted what was best for me.
Entering his senior season, Carden admitted that he was unsure whether he would earn a D-I scholarship, but was happy with a chance to play anywhere.
After he led Episcopal to its first conference title in 15 years, the offer letters began to trickle in from schools like Houston, Harvard and Central Michigan. Carden ultimately committed to East Carolina, yet another decision that paid off.
Becoming a leader
Coming out of high school, scouts noted poise and leadership as his best qualities. The two-star quarterbacks mobility and speed were often questioned.
While his leadership has never been questioned, Carden said he wanted to make some adjustments to the way he leads the Pirates this season.
Its a little easier to take on that role, Carden said. I basically focused on stepping up in a leadership role. Ive always tried to lead by example in the weight room and on the field, but for me I wanted to step up as a vocal leader as well.
Vintavious Cooper, who will share the spotlight with Carden in the backfield this season, has seen a huge change in his quarterback this offseason.
Hes a lot more comfortable and confident when he steps on the field, the senior running back said. He has that intensity and hes always had a chip on his shoulder. Shane has a different kind of swagger this season and he has command of this team like a quarterback should.
When he speaks, guys listen. Its as simple as that.
Carden wasnt the only player setting school records on Saturday night. He and Hardy connected for 16 receptions and 191 yards, tying his own school record for receptions in a single game.
With a confident quarterback and a depleted wide receiver corps, Hardy appears to benefit the most from Cardens exceptional play on the field this season.
We know what hes going to do and he knows what were going to do, Hardy said. We can make crazy numbers.
As if Saturday nights performance wasnt enough.
Smith: 919-829-8941; Twitter: @RCorySmith