In one run during the sixth week of the season, A.J. Colagiovanni covered more ground than he had during his first four games combined.
Manatee’s quarterback, who tormented opposing defenses with his legs and arm last fall, was robbed of one of his greatest weapons during the summer when a broken foot left him lacking the speed and agility he used to earn second-team all-state honors as a junior. Through four games as a senior, Colagiovanni was limited to 23 yards on the ground.
The Hurricanes entered their Sept. 30 game against Lutz Steinbrenner with an extra week of rest and preparation following a bye. Colagiovanni, head coach John Booth hoped, was ready to run at full strength. With a little more than a minute left in the first half, Booth called for Colagiovanni to run a jet around the edge. For the first time this fall, Colagiovanni felt like himself. He ran 42 yards to the end zone, nearly doubling his season-long rushing total in one run.
“We really tried to limit those types of runs,” Booth said.
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The extra dimension has finally returned to Colagiovanni’s arsenal and the Canes’ repertoire on a consistent basis as Manatee enters the final week of its regular season. Colagiovanni has run for at least 47 yards in three straight games, logging 63 yards against Sarasota Riverview, 58 against Riverview and 47 in a 63-41 win against Newsome on Friday in Lithia. Colagiovanni has also thrown for five touchdowns in back-to-back games.
The return to full strength, Colagiovanni hopes, will prompt college coaches to give him another look. After visiting Purdue and a handful of Ivy League schools during his sophomore and junior seasons, contact dried up when he injured his foot and he was unable to attend camps during the summer before his senior year. He’s since taken an official visit to Stetson, a Football Championship Subdivision program, and has an offer from Union College, a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics school in Kentucky, but he is once again proving himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the state.
“He had a second-team all-state season last year,” Booth said, “and he’s playing even better this year.”
Colagiovanni leads Manatee County in passing yards for the second consecutive season and extrapolating the 56 rushing yard average of his last three games across the nine games he’s played so far would put him at 504 — good enough to place him in the top 10 in the county and well ahead of his average from last year.
The early season transition to a cautious runner wasn’t a new phenomenon for Colagiovanni. He was never a running quarterback — self described as “slow,” in fact — until he joined the Hurricanes as a freshman and had to adjust to the spread system in place. By his junior year, Colagiovanni’s running ability was one of the Canes’ most dangerous options. Booth would call close to double-digit designed runs for Colagiovanni each game and he ran for at least 64 yards four times during the regular season. Friday in Lithia, Booth called six for Colagiovanni after having games earlier during the season when he rarely called more than one.
Size has always been an issue for Colagiovanni, who is listed at 6 feet by the Hurricanes, and mobility was a way to ensure college coaches that he could produce despite some physical limitations. With his returning speed and 2,061 passing yards — 11th among Florida passers with stats recorded on MaxPreps.com — he’s making a final push for attention.
“I want to play somewhere, of course,” Colagiovanni said, “so I just stay positive.”
News and nuggets:
- Braden River end Taylor Upshaw picked up his first Big 10 offer Thursday, when Northwestern extended a scholarship offer to the junior. Upshaw now stands at seven offers during his first season of organized football: South Florida, Central Florida, Pittsburgh, Vanderbilt and California are among the schools who have offered. His seven offers are second-most among Manatee County juniors, behind Pirates defensive back Tyrone Collins. Upshaw has a Nov. 12 visit planned to Clemson, where his brother, Regan, is a walk-on linebacker.
- Manatee guard Seth Walter took his first official visit to a Division I school Saturday, when he traveled to Hanover, N.H., for Dartmouth’s 23-21 loss to Harvard. The Big Green, which plays in the Football Championship Subdivision, is the reigning Ivy League champion. Walter, who has scored a touchdown this year as a tight end, previously visited Division II University of West Florida.