HOOVER, Ala. -- A year ago at this time, A.J. Colagiovanni was swimming just to stay above water.
In football years, he was in his infancy, starting his first game as a sophomore against Ware County, Ga., one of the best teams in the country.
He had a rough day and Manatee lost. Four games later, he lost his starting job.
A lot of kids in his position would've moped or asked to be sent down to the JV team, where he would play every game and put up some big numbers. But Colagiovanni didn't want to have any part of that.
The best thing about Colagiovanni is that he didn't feel sorry for himself or think he got a raw deal with a late transfer moving in to take the quarterback job.
He learned as much as he could in preparation for the future.
The future begins Friday night, when Manatee faces Hoover, the most successful team in the history of Alabama high school football.
Colagiovanni will be the starting quarterback, and there won't be any butterflies swarming inside his stomach this time. He exudes confidence.
"Hoover's defense is big, that's what we expect. We are always facing big teams when we go out of state and we are ready. They have weapons and we have weapons and it's going to be a battle," Colagiovanni says.
He is a year older, bigger, more confident and, most importantly, wiser.
"Knowing that as a
sophomore I started my first game against a powerhouse gives me a lot of confidence this time. I learned a lot up there," Colagiovanni says. "I started five games and then sat. But I spent a lot of time going over film with coach (John) Booth and (strength) coach (Rich) Lansky learning how my body works and to take care of it.."
Colagiovanni grew an inch and added 20 pounds to his current 5-11, 195 pound frame, which is a lot more muscular after shredding his baby fat.
Booth has seen the growth in Colagiovanni. It's why he named the junior his starting quarterback last spring and hasn't had any second thoughts,
"I am happy where A.J. is at. I thought he played well Friday night and executed well," Booth said. "He completed 70 percent (of his passes) and had one drop, which would've put him at 80 percent. He made the correct reads and played with a lot of confidence. I am expecting him to continue to do the same."
Going against a powerhouse such as Hoover, Booth wants a quarterback who will take advantage of his opportunities without trying to do much and take risky chances.
Booth likes the confidence Colagiovanni possesses, and his understanding of the concepts that make the Canes offense productive.
"Hoover is aggressive, but we are confident," the quarterback says. "We are going to do our best and we are going to compete. They strap up their uniforms the same way we do, and we are going to compete."
This is Manatee's fifth trip out of state to play a nationally touted opponent and the fourth time the team traveled by plane. Last year, the Canes drove to Georgia.
"There are a lot of educational things about taking kids on an out-of-state trip," says assistant coach Dennis Stallard who has been on all five. "A lot of our kids have never been out of Bradenton hardly and much less been on a plane. It's a chance to let them see another part of the world."