TARPON SPRINGS -- This time last season, neither John Booth nor A.J. Colagiovanni figured in Manatee's long-term plans.
Booth was prepping for his fifth season as Valrico Bloomingdale's head coach while Colagiovanni was about to enter high school.
But there they were Friday night, talking quietly after each made a successful debut in the Hurricanes' 26-17 Kickoff Classic win over Tarpon Springs East Lake.
A sophomore, Colagiovanni has usurped senior Sloan Drummonds, a transfer from Sebastian River, as Manatee's starting quarterback and should be under center Friday when the Hurricanes open the regular season in Georgia against Ware County.
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"A.J. did a great job in fall camp and really progressed, really from Day 1, since I've been there," said Booth, hired over the summer after Joe Kinnan took a medical leave of absence. "We gave Sloan the chance to start, being a senior, and A.J. has really separated himself. ... Sloan did have an injury that kept him out of a couple practices, but that gave A.J. a chance to show what we could do. And he kind of took it and ran with it."
Booth acknowledged Friday's result wasn't all on Colagiovanni's shoulders, especially because Manatee has a possible Division I running back in Johnnie Lang, who totaled 134 yards and scored a second-quarter touchdown. But the coach was pleased with how his quarterback managed the game. The Hurricanes had no turnovers, and Colagiovanni kept feeding the ball to Lang and receiver Kavious Price, back to his natural position after playing quarterback in the spring.
"I thought he did a great job getting the ball to (receiver) Kelvin (McKnight) and Kavious," Booth said, "and Johnnie ran the ball well. ... (Colagiovanni) did exactly what we needed out of him, and I'm excited about the future with him and his development going forward."
Manatee's defense and special teams pitched in with plenty of assistance. The Hurricanes took a 9-0 lead in the first quarter after the defense recovered a pair of fumbles on East Lake's 5-yard line.
And linebacker Nashon Smith blocked a punt, scooped it and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown to stretch the Canes' lead to 23-14 midway through the third quarter.
"That's the strength of this team right now -- our defense," Booth said. "And they played their butts off and really gave us a chance to put some points on the board."
Price added a touchdown run, and Nick Pennebacker converted a pair of field goals for Manatee.
"I think it's big for all of us," Booth said of Friday's win. "I think it kind of gives everybody that sigh of relief -- 'OK, we can play, we're going to still be OK, we're still going to do some things.' East Lake is a great team, and they're going to do things this season, so it was a great test for us."