Diante Petruso began his high school football career at Columbia High, but has come into his own this season, as a senior at River Bluff.
“I felt more of a leader when I came here, because I’d had some experience playing varsity, and a lot of other people hadn’t, except (quarterback) Brandon Tillmon,” Petruso said. “But at the beginning of the season, I wasn’t really playing my best, but once we got to region, I just knew we had to win, and I had to do whatever I had to do.”
Coach David Bennett said Petruso’s potential was evident from the beginning.
“We felt all along that, if he gave it 100 percent, he’s the kind of kid who could have his education paid for,” he said. “The last three weeks, he’s certainly done that.”
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Petruso’s progress was most evident in the Gators’ first playoff win on Nov. 17. Petruso, a two-way player, sparked a second-half rally when he stripped a Goose Creek receiver at the 1-yard line and ran it back 99 yards for a touchdown.
“It completely flipped the whole momentum of the game,” Bennett said. Instead of trailing 28-3, River Bluff cut the lead to 11 points. And then the Gators kept scoring. The No. 16 seeded Gators toppled No. 1 Goose Creek 22-21 in the first round of the Class 4A Division 1 playoffs. Petruso also made six catches for 70 yards in the game.
“I didn’t really realize how big of an impact it had until I got home, when people were texting me and calling me,” he said.
Exciting as it was, Petruso said, as a team leader, it was what he expected of himself.
“I feel like I should play like that every game,” said Petruso, who has posted more than 1,000 all-purpose yards for the Gators this season as a kick returner and receiver.
“He’s been high, and he’s been low,” Bennett said. “He’s learned to work, and to not just rely on his talent to get him through,” Bennett said.
“Now, I give my hardest every game,” Petruso said.
As the Gators visit York in the second round, Petruso is looking for another great game, not just for himself, but for his team.
“Coach is always saying, it’s not about I and me, it’s about us and we, and River Bluff. So we know that staying humble is important to succeeding this season,” he said. That is why Petruso counts his best games not as the ones where he scored the most points or gained the most yards.
“The best games are the wins,” he said.