Around this time four summers ago, Giovanni Gentosi mulled over what sports to try out for at Corona del Mar High. As a kid, he played many sports and his family supported him.
Mom and dad were always there when he competed in the swimming pool, on the soccer pitch, on the baseball diamond, and on the basketball and volleyball courts. Marie and Paul Gentosi knew their son couldn't continue with all five sports in high school. The summer leading into his freshman year at CdM Gentosi talked to his parents about sticking with basketball and volleyball.
Gentosi wound up signing up for football that summer.
He had never played tackle football, yet 15 minutes before the deadline to sign up he wanted to strap on a helmet and pads like his dad did. Paul played high school football at Newport Harbor in the 1960s. He saw his son pave his own way at the rival school.
Gentosi is the Daily Pilot Newport-Mesa Male Athlete of the Year for leading CdM to a historic 16-0 season as a senior center. Seven months have passed since CdM's season concluded with a 27-15 win against Atherton Sacred Heart Prep in the CIF State Division III Bowl Game.
This week, Gentosi began to prepare for another high school game for recent graduates. The final time Gentosi can strap on that CdM helmet is on Thursday as a player in the 55th edition of the Brea Lions Club Orange County North-South Prep All-Star Football Game at Orange Coast College.
When it ends with his South team winning or losing, Gentosi's football career won't be over. The decision to play high school football proved to be the right one. Gentosi said he joins the UCLA football team as a preferred walk-on player on Aug. 1.
Football is the sport that gave Gentosi the best chance to play on the next level, where he hopes to be a long snapper or play as a defensive end or outside linebacker. His dad told him football best suited him that summer in 2010. Gentosi wasn't going to be tall enough to play basketball or volleyball in college. For one season, he tried volleyball as a freshman, before he focused on football.
At 6-foot-2, 245 pounds now, Gentosi isn't a big football player. Gentosi turned out to be a giant leader and winner. During his three seasons as a starter on varsity, the Sea Kings won three CIF Southern Section Southern Division titles, two undefeated Pacific Coast League titles, and posted a 40-4 record.
The one player CdM Coach Scott Meyer said he could always count on during the three-year run was Gentosi. He started every game ever since Meyer took over at CdM. To go 44 games without missing a start, let alone a game, is a remarkable feat in a sport as violent as football.
"I might have been just lucky," Gentosi said of avoiding a serious injury.
There were games Gentosi could have missed when tendinitis in his left knee made it hard for him to walk, or when he dislocated fingers. He played through all the injuries associated with playing in the trenches.
Seeing four offensive players, quarterback Luke Napolitano, tailback Cole Martin and wide receivers Cole Collins and Bo St. Geme, produce CdM single-season records for passing, rushing and receiving made it all worth it to Gentosi. He and the rest of the starters on the line, left tackle Ian Redman, left guard Michael Pierotti, right guard Brett Olson and right tackle Quinn Bassler, played vital roles to the skill position players' achievements.
Winning also eased the pain. Gentosi went out on top. He anchored the Sea Kings to 26 straight victories. When the season ended, CdM becoming the first team in California to go 16-0 in a season, the Sea Kings owned the longest current winning streak in the state.
With no more football at CdM, Gentosi took up another sport. He joined the track and field team as a thrower in the spring. His schedule allowed it.
"I needed something to do because I got out of school at noon," said Gentosi, who in his only year throwing placed first in the shotput and second in the discus throw at the Pacific Coast League finals.
Gentosi added to the many honors he earned as a senior. As a football player, he made the MaxPreps All-American Small Schools Football Team, the CalHiSports.com All-State Medium Schools First Team, the MaxPreps California Division III All-State Football First Team, and the All-Orange County first team. He was the CIF Southern Section Southern Division Offensive Player of the Year, the Pacific Coast League MVP, and the Daily Pilot Dream Team Player of the Year. The one that he is most fond of is the national accolade.
"I was shocked that I got that," Gentosi said of making the MaxPreps All-American Small Schools Football Team. "It's different than the awards you get from your school, your league, your county, your section and your state. When you're the best in the nation it is a big honor."