There was a “gee whiz” component to Anthony DiNardo’s varsity football debut at Joliet West.
He threw two passes in the Tigers’ 48-0 season-opening victory over Thornridge. Both went for touchdowns—one covering 84 yards to Jordan Brown, the other covering 56 yards to Korey Rogers.
So, it went in the books like this for DiNardo: 2-for-2, 140 yards passing, 2 touchdowns.
And, to think, he didn’t even start for Joliet West.
Ashton McCullough took the first snap from center for the Tigers. He earned the starting job during the summer months. He took all the reps in practice and flashed great athleticism.
McCullough, listed at 6 feet and 180 pounds on Joliet West’s roster, is a dual-threat senior quarterback who performed well in the opener, too. He is more likely to keep the ball on a read-option play than to throw a bubble screen.
His style differs from DiNardo. McCullough is gifted with speed and a knack for making defenders miss. He can buy extra time for his receivers to get open by scrambling outside the pocket.
DiNardo, a 6-2, 200-pound junior, is the more prototypical style quarterback of old. He brings the big arm of a talented baseball pitcher to the fold. He is just now regaining his strength after suffering a shoulder injury in June.
In the last inning of a travel baseball championship game in Schaumburg, he tagged up on a flyball and slid head-first into home plate.
“My shoulder dislocated on the slide,” DiNardo said. “I was safe, though.”
He spent the summer in rehab and on the football sidelines—watching McCullough work his fleet-of-foot magic. DiNardo learned while he watched and became so well-versed in Joliet West’s system coach Jason Aubry decided to break from his mold.
He ordinarily favors identifying one leader, playing one quarterback. DiNardo and McCullough now have him thinking two heads are better than one because of the challenge they present opponents in preparation for facing the Tigers.
That’s where the “gee whiz” component comes into play. Who’s it going to be? The runner? The passer? What happens if both DiNardo and McCullough are on the field at the same time?
Aubry considers it a win-win situation for Joliet West, which will be looking for its second straight victory Friday when the Tigers play at Plainfield South. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. Two wins in a row for Joliet West?
Yes, you read that correctly. How significant a feat would that be? Consider the Tigers were 2-7 in 2010 and ’11 and were locked out of the playoff picture early during both seasons.
“You know, it’s been good using both quarterbacks,” Aubry said. “It’s hard for people to adjust. So, if we’re able to use two quarterbacks, they’re going to have to—during the game or during the week of prep—they’re going to have to prep for both of our quarterbacks.
“They’ll never know who’s going to be in there. We’ll see how the season goes. Maybe we will have to lean on one more than the other. But, right now, I like the position we’re in.”
The position is one of strength. McCullough and DiNardo have worked together, helped each other out. Because they’re handling the two heads are better than one approach, their teammates have had no choice but to fall in behind the plan, too, in an example of high school sports at its finest.
Lessons learned on the playing field—teamwork, discipline and dedication—often carry over into real life.
“I’ve known him since before football started,” McCullough said. “We’ve been talking a little bit. When I’m out there, he helps me with any reads I don’t see. And, when I’m on the sideline, I help him with anything he doesn’t see.
“So, it kind of works together like that.”
DiNardo earned Patch Athlete of the Week accolades for his performance against Thornridge. During the game, he wore a brace as a precautionary measure to protect his shoulder. He wasn’t feeling any pain, though. Not after his "gee whiz" effort.
Two passes, two touchdowns. Are you kidding me?
“Yeah, especially my first year on varsity and my first pass was a touchdown,” DiNardo said. “It was like, ‘I’ll take it.’ Then, it happened again. ‘Two-for-two, two touchdowns.’ I didn’t really do much—just tossed it out there.
“The receivers made it happen and the guys blocking.”
Nothing to it, right?
“I just come in and throw touchdowns,” DiNardo said, a grin crossing his face.
McCullough’s day will come.
“He’s improved a lot,” DiNardo said.
“We can line up in the spread with Ashton (McCullough) back there, with Anthony (DiNardo) back there,” Aubry said. “We’ll line up in the I (formation). We’re just very multiple this year, and both quarterbacks need to know every formation.
“No matter who we have back there, we’ll run whatever we’ve been running. There’s no, ‘Oh, Ashton’s in. We’re only going to run this formation.’ It’s nothing like that. So, we can do multiple things.”
My reaction? Gee whiz, Joliet West is on to something here.