Mason Costantino has made several notable catches during Ashland's nonconference schedule, but it turns out the senior receiver was quite the catch himself.
For Grizzly football coach Charlie Hall, he was actually one of several nice catches that have ultimately shaped the identity of Ashland's on-field product.
The movement started in the early stages of 2008's fall camp. Hall, cleaning the locker room at the time, was told by assistant coach Steve Mitzel that he had a new player in the building.
When he looked up, he found his own son, Nicholas, ready to finally give dad's sport a shot.
"He had talked about coming out, but I never pressured him," Hall said of his son, who decided to show up right after returning to town from a legion baseball tournament. "I didn't think he was serious, but I guess he was."
Nicholas, a senior now, went on to earn second-team all-conference accolades as a corner in his first season after soccer had clogged his fall sports schedule in years past, but that's not where the story ends.
Almost midway through the season — on a Monday, following a Friday win over Phoenix — Costantino and basketball teammate Jordan Resch took action after some talk of joining the program, making their way to the AHS athletic offices to see what they could do.
As the pair arrived, they ran into another teammate, Lucas Stone — only to find he was doing the same thing.
"We hadn't even talked to (Stone) before," Costantino said. "We just decided we were going to do it, but then he told us he was going to try to play football and we were like, 'What?'"
Yet another hooper, Garret Tygerson, hopped on board at the same time, Hall pointing out that "We welcome anybody." The way things turned out, it's a policy the coach won't need much convincing to hold on to.
Tygerson soon became an impact receiver as a senior, Resch starred and continues to star at linebacker, and Costantino and Stone currently lead the Grizzlies in receptions.
While there wasn't an immediate need for Costantino and Stone in the Ashland offense during their first year, they were able to learn the system and, of course, the game in general on the junior varsity squad as juniors. Even now, Hall says the learning process continues for all the newcomers.
"There are still times out there that those guys are figuring things out for the very first time because they didn't have these experiences really at any level," he said. "They'll be out there going, 'Oh, I see,' but they're all very smart kids so they learn pretty fast."
When Hall says they're all smart kids, he's not just talking about 'Football IQ', nor is he exaggerating. Costantino, Nicholas Hall, Resch and Stone all boast GPAs above 3.9, mixing in only a few A-minuses between them.
Now coach Hall is the one looking really smart, and even smarter if the Grizzlies can even their 2-3 record at Bend on Friday as they'll engage in their final tune-up before opening up Southern Sky play against Crater.
Costantino enters the game with a team-high, and SSC-high, 22 catches, his 81.6 reception yards-per-game marred only by a catch-less game against Marshfield two weeks ago.
He does it all, though, for the Grizzlies, acting as their place-kicker and even notching a game-high eight tackles and a forced fumble in last week's 24-7 whacking of Springfield.
"Football was something I definitely wanted to give a try before the end of high school, and I really admired the way the program was run," said Costantino, who initially gave up soccer after his sophomore season to focus on basketball. "But now that I'm out here, I gained a lot of confidence over the summer and Lucas and I knew we were going to have to step in at receiver."
Stone, who stands eye-to-eye with Costantino at 6-2, has also been solidified as one of first-year quarterback Jake Scarminach's favorite targets, leading Ashland with three touchdowns through the air. Stone ranks second to Costantino in the SSC in both receptions (17) and receiving yards (318).
On the other side of the ball, senior lineman Joe Maulsby is leading the Grizzlies with 24.5 tackles, but Resch and Hall aren't far behind with 18 and 17, respectively. Hall is also pacing the team with seven passes broken up, and his 10 catches include a touchdown at receiver.
Costantino says he and his buddies were most surprised to find so much strategy and preparation required to play their new sport, but none regret the decision made on that Monday almost a year ago.
"It's a lot of fun," he said with a laugh, nodding his head. "It's such a different sport, but there's nothing like running out there on a Friday night in front of a big crowd."