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Former UCF/East Lake QB Pete DiNovo lands at Illinois

Central Florida wide receiver Pete DiNovo (14) catches a pass while warming up before an NCAA college football game against Furman, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Central Florida wide receiver Pete DiNovo (14) catches a pass while warming up before an NCAA college football game against Furman, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Published Sep. 18, 2017

Pete DiNovo, the former East Lake High standout who left UCF's program last month, has landed at Illinois.

DiNovo said he transferred to the Illini as a walk-on quarterback to complete his final year of eligibility. His first practice was Monday afternoon.

"I couldn't be happier with the way everything turned out," DiNovo said. "I can come up here and learn from Lovie (Smith) and everyone else on the coaching staff."

In three seasons as a starter at East Lake, DiNovo set Pinellas County records at the time for career passing yards (6,733) and touchdowns (59) while leading the Eagles to their first region appearance his senior season in 2012.

He picked the Knights over USF, and after redshirting for a year, he was handed the starting job.

There was pressure. Tons of it. DiNovo took over quarterbacking duties from Blake Bortles, who led the Knights to their first and only BCS bowl win and was the third overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2014 draft.

Not only was DiNovo performing in the shadow of history, but he also made some of his own as the first freshman to start for UCF since Daunte Culpepper in 1995.

To add even more glare to the spotlight, DiNovo's debut came in a nationally televised game against Penn State in Dublin, Ireland.

The Knights lost that game and DiNovo lost his starting job. He eventually moved to receiver before switching back to quarterback earlier this year.

"Coach (Scott) Frost came in and he had his own staff and his own guys," DiNovo said. "You know how those things go."

In search of a new home, DiNovo went back to his roots. His connection with former East Lake linebacker Jake Hansen, a sophomore for Illinois who is out with a season-ending knee injury, played a key role in where to transfer.

There are other local ties, too. Illinois secondary coach Donnie Abraham was an assistant at East Lake when DiNovo was there.

DiNovo already has his bachelor's degree in communications and was accepted into a graduate advertising program at Illinois. That also was a factor because said he was looking for ways to market his new company, DiNovo Golf Carts.

He also minored in coaching at UCF and wants to be involved in football in the area once he finishes his graduate degree.

"I'm in the perfect spot," DiNovo said. "I can't wait to get started."