When the Central Catholic football team took the field for the first time last season, quarterback J.J. Cosentino stood along the Vikings' sideline the entire game.
The then junior and recent transfer from Kiski Area had played two varsity games during his sophomore year with the Cavaliers before sustaining a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament tear in his left knee.
Still, Cosentino was ready to play his junior season and soon pleaded with Central Catholic's coaching staff to let him play with the junior varsity team.
"I didn't want to just not play," said Cosentino, who lives in Westmoreland County's Allegheny Township. "I asked to play JV and I ended up having a big game and threw for five touchdowns."
That game apparently was enough for Central Catholic coach Terry Totten to give Cosentino a shot at running the Vikings offense. By Week 3 last season, Cosentino moved into the starting spot and finished his campaign completing 43 of 98 passes for 552 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for seven touchdowns.
"He's been through a lot of adversity, coming back from a knee injury and then playing JV last season," Totten said. "He ended up dominating and earned his job. He did that on his terms and ended up taking the helm of our offense.
"He's overcome a lot and earned everything to become a real leader."
At 6 feet 5 and 225 pounds, Cosentino quickly gained interest from a number of Division I programs and made a verbal commitment with Florida State this past summer.
"J.J. is a tremendous talent," Totten said. "With his arm strength and athletic ability, he can really impact a football game. He has the opportunity to go on to great things in football."
Cosentino has already played a big role in Central Catholic's success this year.
"He's played very well this season," Totten said. "We've been committed to running the ball, but when he's called upon to throw, he's been great. He also runs very well and can beat people with his legs.
"His mental toughness and leadership is unbelievable."
Besides guiding undefeated Central Catholic (14-0) to a WPIAL Class AAAA championship two weeks ago, Cosentino supplied a pair of first-half rushing touchdowns last week in the PIAA quarterfinals, a 48-7 romp against McDowell, the District 10 champion.
"This season has been awesome, but we're not done yet," Cosentino said. "Winning the WPIAL championship was obviously a step in the right direction, but winning that gold football in the state championship has been our goal since the start of the offseason."
Central Catholic advances to a semifinal showdown against District 3 champion Lower Dauphin (13-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Mansion Park Stadium in Altoona.
"Our style of play is tough and not too many football teams can grind it out with us," Cosentino said. "We're going to wear you down and that makes it too hard for a lot of teams to keep up with us."
It hasn't been much of a secret this season that Central Catholic relies on its running game. Between star backs Luigi Lista-Brinza and Riley Redman as well as fullback Devin Faloon, Grant Foster and Cosentino, the Vikings have run the ball close to 500 times in 14 games.
"J.J. is very important to the offense because he's a great leader," Totten said. "With our running game, he can run the ball himself, but we know at any time he can take us over the top with his arm."
Through 14 games, Cosentino has completed 38 of 82 passes for 704 yards and 12 touchdowns.
"I'll do whatever my team asks me to do and will try to do it to the best of my ability," said Cosentino, who also plans on playing basketball this winter for Central Catholic. "Sometimes I wish we threw the ball more, but we've been so successful running the ball and I'm fine with that.
"This is all about the team. I'm happy doing my part in helping our team win games."
As far as winning this week and having a shot at a PIAA championship, Cosentino believes a little extra preparation will only help the Vikings down the stretch.
"We need to keep executing," Cosentino said. "Last week, we won and we won big but it really wasn't our best game. We know we have to clean up everything in order to have our best game this week.
"We have to say focused, execute and play more precise."