Palmetto High coach Dave Marino knew he needed to do something drastic in 2015. The Tigers were entering their final season with quarterback Jack Allison, a four-star recruit who eventually signed with Miami, but didn’t have a quarterback of the future because not many people want to sit behind a stellar three-year starter.
Marino’s solution? Telling his son Anthony Marino, then an eighth-grader, that he’d have to switch from wide receiver to quarterback. The elder Marino didn’t care that Anthony hadn’t played the position before. He could help Anthony with his development. He just needed someone he could rely upon, someone with leadership qualities to play quarterback.
“The first reaction was, ‘Yes, I’ll do it, anything to help the team,’ ” Anthony said earlier this week. “I was just like, ‘Here we go, I’m going to try something new.’ Obviously, it worked out.”
Consider that an understatement.
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The senior led the Tigers to a 69-0 road win against Lakewood Ranch on Friday night, completing 6 of 8 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for another score. The Tigers (5-2, 2-1 Class 7A-District 11) also allowed the Mustangs (0-7, 0-3 7A-11) to gain just 46 yards and kept them from crossing the 50-yard line the entire game.
“Defensively, we have to clean up some things, the offsides, giving free 5 yards away,” Dave Marino said after the game. “If we’re going to win this (district) championship against Venice, that’ll kill us. Venice is a very disciplined football team. We have to make sure we are preparing a little bit better and being a little bit more disciplined.”
Anthony’s performance was just the latest in a season filled with stat sheet-busting lines. He entered Week 8 having completed 66.4 percent of his passes for 1,267 yards and 11 touchdowns against just three interceptions. He’s also rushed for 11 touchdowns.
Anthony’s success comes despite a less-than-ideal path to the starting role.
Conscious of how people might perceive his son being the quarterback, Coach Marino had his staff split his son’s reps while on the freshman and junior varsity teams his first two years at Palmetto. When they told Coach Marino that his son was the better quarterback and that he should be getting more snaps, he told them to stay the course.
Anthony came up to varsity for the final game of his sophomore year and has started since. He’s been successful because he realizes that, at 6 feet tall and 180 pounds, he doesn’t have the measurables other quarterbacks have. This means he must be smart.
Anthony learned the nuances of playing quarterback by watching video with his father each night for the past four years. After the Marino family eats dinner together, they’ll go to Dave’s office in their home around 8 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. and watch video for about two hours.
“If you’re smart enough, you can read defenses and the game goes so much slower for you,” Anthony said earlier this week. “Now, I can make checks and stuff, I can move protection. As anyone grows in any position, you’re going to get more comfortable, you’re going to get more of a feel for the game. It’s just going to come over time.”
Anthony also credits Tigers offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tyler Stoldt for helping him improve his footwork and his release.
All of these things turned him into the quarterback who led the Tigers last season into the second round of the Class 7A playoffs, a round they hadn’t reached since 2012. He hopes that experience will help the Tigers advance further.
“All of our guys, they’ve been there, done that,” Anthony said earlier this week. “Maybe last time we were a little more anxious to get through the game or get into the game at least and just see how it was going to play out. But this year we’re actually going to come and attack it better.”
The Tigers only have three regular-season games remaining and can play a maximum of five more games in the postseason. Anthony will be leading the way as the Tigers’ quarterback. That didn’t seem likely just a few years ago, but he’s exceeded his father’s expectations in the role.
“I was just looking for a stabilizing influence on the program,” Dave Marino said earlier this week. “Quarterback has to be a special breed of person in terms of leadership skills. Anything that he was going to bring in terms of on-the-field performance was going to be a bonus.”