EAST LAKE — The first charting of Pete DiNovo’s penchant for producing record-setting numbers was scribbled in pen in a black-and-white notebook 12 years ago.
Pete DiNovo Sr. discovered the journal his son kept while cleaning out the garage this past spring.
One entry read: “Me and my dad beat our record. We did 116 (throws) with my football. It was hard to do.”
The records kept coming, through middle school and high school. Now the East Lake High quarterback stands as the most prolific passer ever in Pinellas County.
This season, the 6-foot-3, 205-pounder has set county career records for passing yards (6,412) and touchdowns (56), both previously held by former Gibbs and Tampa Bay Buccaneer standout Shaun King.
DiNovo also has set the county’s single-season record for passing yards with 2,659, surpassing the mark of 2,445 set by former Pinellas Park star Tony Rucker in 1990. All of this has happened in a season in which the Eagles (11-1) set a school record for victories and will play at Orlando Dr. Phillips (12-0) in tonight’s Class 8A region final.
“It’s funny to go back and think how competitive and driven Pete was to succeed in football, even at 6 years old,” DiNovo Sr. said.
Back then, there was none of the modern machinery that produces sports prodigies. DiNovo Sr. tutored his son in marathon throwing sessions in the family’s backyard in East Greenbush, N.Y. They tossed an inflated Hutch junior football in the cold and the snow.
“It was a different animal dealing with the weather up there,” DiNovo Sr. said. “But Pete was determined. We would throw the football and see how long we could go before one of us dropped it. After a few times, we would go on for so long it was hard to keep count.”
DiNovo always had a natural ability to throw the ball, but he was something of an accidental quarterback.
In youth leagues, DiNovo preferred playing running back. It was only after his family moved to Florida in 2005 that he considered playing quarterback. And that was at the urging of his father, who coached him until high school.
“I was in eighth grade, and we didn’t have anyone to play quarterback,” DiNovo said. “My dad wanted me to go in there. I didn’t want to at first, but I kind of liked it because I wanted the ball in my hands every play.”
He showed his appetite for scoring as a freshman in high school when he took off toward the end zone on a run and flipped before falling short.
“Pete really wanted to battle and show what he could do,” East Lake coach Bob Hudson said. “He does this little aerial thing and all the guys go nuts wondering who this kid is. I wasn’t as thrilled because I don’t want my quarterback going through the air like that.”
DiNovo continued to raise his profile in the summer of 2010, wowing college coaches with his arm, agility and intelligence at camps.
After attending a camp at Florida State, Jimbo Fisher told DiNovo he had everything he was looking for in a quarterback and would be on the Seminoles’ recruiting radar.
“That boosted my confidence a lot and let me know I could play at the next level,” DiNovo said.
Convincing college coaches was one thing. DiNovo also had to persuade Hudson to open up the playbook once he took over as the starting quarterback. Hudson, who prefers to run the option, obliged.
“I think after Coach was able to see how well we did at camps and in passing leagues, it gave him more confidence to let us air it out more,” DiNovo said. “We’ve worked really hard at becoming a great passing team.”
DiNovo has fulfilled his scholastic requirements thanks to a home-school schedule through Florida Virtual School that’s custom fit to reach his potential in football.
But this season, DiNovo wanted to take classes to get the high school experience as a senior. He also ended speculation about where he would play college football by committing to Central Florida in July.
That allowed him to put everything he had into this season. DiNovo has plenty of downfield threats at his disposal, including junior Artavis
Scott and sophomore George Campbell, two Division-I recruits. It has all added up to open receivers, crisp passes, big plays and points aplenty.
This season, DiNovo has 28 touchdowns (22 passing, six rushing). He has thrown for more than 300 yards in a game three times. But the only stat DiNovo is concerned with now is winning a state title.
“When I came to East Lake, I sat down with the coaches and told them this was the ultimate goal, to go out and win one,” DiNovo said.
“Hopefully we can get that done.”
Bob Putnam can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @BobbyHomeTeam.