EAST LAKE — Pete DiNovo has always been an Eagle and has the pictures to prove it.
Plastered on his bedroom wall are action shots of him wearing the No. 5 with an eagle's wing on the helmet. As a member of the East Lake youth football program, DiNovo played quarterback.
Now, a high school sophomore, DiNovo, 16, is again wearing the royal blue uniform with the eagle on the helmet and playing quarterback.
He's on East Lake High's varsity team, but he has yet to take a class at the school. DiNovo and his sister Mariah, 14, are homeschooled. They are getting their high school education from the Florida Virtual School.
"I'm a normal 16-year-old kid," DiNovo said. "I just do my schoolwork at home. There's nothing different about me. I work hard at what I love and that's just how I am. I hate the fact that people always assume something about being homeschooled.
"It's the same classes all the kids are doing. I'm doing the same stuff. It's not like I'm getting off easy."
Established in 1997, Florida Virtual School is the country's first statewide Internet-based public high school. Now serving grades K-12, the school offers more than 100 courses and is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the courses are NCAA approved. The school served 97,000 students during the 2009-10 school year.
DiNovo and sister Mariah, who sings, plays guitar and just made East Lake's junior varsity cheerleading squad, attended public school until they reached middle school. They then started the homeschool program. Both say they get the one-on-one attention that they need and that tutors are always available.
But how does the starting quarterback bond with his teammates when a portion of the process is done beyond the gridiron?
"I'm hanging out with players every weekend and players are always at my house," DiNovo said. "I'm not missing anything but waking up earlier and getting a bus and all that stuff."
DiNovo said he's known some of the players a long time and that has made not walking the high school halls a lot easier. He's also known coach Bob Hudson since his youth football days.
"He's been with us since the summer and we accepted him then," said Tyler Higbee, a senior receiver. "He makes up for the time. He's always there, at the meals, at the breakfast in the mornings. He hangs out with the team."
Hudson said he was initially concerned.
"I've had one other homeschooled kid, but he wasn't the quarterback," Hudson said. "He (DiNovo) gets his work done early to be here on time. He does a good job of mingling and getting with the guys on the weekends."
Hudson said there may be some issues as DiNovo gets older and college recruiters start coming to the school.
"They (college recruiters) pop up in the mornings and afternoons and you never know when they are coming in," Hudson said.
In addition to football practice at East Lake, DiNovo works out nearly every day with speed trainer Johnny Walters in Pasco County. That's where he met former Florida State University quarterback Drew Weatherford, who was a Land O'Lakes High star at the time.
"He was the youngest kid there but one of the hardest workers out there," said Weatherford, now 25. "You could tell there was something different about him. Immediately after meeting him, you realize the kid had a dream and is extremely driven."
DiNovo and Weatherford stay in touch.
Going into tonight's first round playoff game against Tampa Bay Tech, DiNovo ranks third in Pinellas County in passing yardage with 1,316 yards. He also has thrown for 15 touchdowns.
Strong in his faith, DiNovo often prints Bible verses and tapes them to his computer monitor. His favorite, Luke 12:48, hangs on a plaque in his room and says: "To whom much is given, much will be required."
"That's a big part of my life," DiNovo said of his faith. "I feel like being a good person got me where I am right now and it's only going to keep getting better. That's what I'm thinking. That's what I'm going by. A lot of people I talk to on the higher level, they say be a good person, stay strong and remember where you came from."
DiNovo said he's always been an Eagle.
"I would have had No. 5 but someone else had it," DiNovo said of his East Lake High uniform number. "I came to like No. 8. You look it up in the Bible and turned sideways, it means 'the start of a new era.' "
Contact Demorris A. Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4174.