ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Patience has been a virtue for Gino Bianconi.
After quietly waiting his turn to be Wheeling Central's featured running back, the senior grabbed his opportunity and ran with it, literally, this season.
After only rushing for 148 yards and one touchdown in limited duty in 2010, Bianconi has amassed nearly 2,000 yards of total offense heading into Saturday's West Virginia Class A title showdown against Williamstown at Wheeling Island Stadium.
Central’s Gina Bianconi has rushed for 1,777 yards this season.
File Photo by Alex Kozlowski
Bianconi is the latest in a long line of backs that have been part of the Maroon Knights' recent decade of dominance.
''He's stepped up,'' Wheeling Central coach Mike Young said during practice this week at Red Devils Stadium.
''He's answered the bell and he's played tremendous. The guys have rallied around him and that's built up his confidence.''
Bianconi racked up 175 yards and three touchdowns rushing in a semifinal victory against East Hardy to bring his season totals to 1,777 and 26. All told, e stands 72 yards shy of the 2,000-yard plateau.
While many of Central's top backs the past few seasons have been bruisers, Bianconi's calling card is speed. If he gets through the opponents' defensive front, he's hard to stop.
''We always knew he had the speed,'' Young said. ''He believed he could be a runner. He believed he could score. He believed he could beat anyone on the field.
''That's how he's played and that's what he's done.''
Even when the Maroon Knights (12-1) suffered their lone loss of the season to Linsly.
In that contest - a 54-18 Cadets victory - Bianconi was at his best, utilizing a pair of big runs in a 235-yard performance.
He's clearly hit his stride.
''It's my senior year so I knew I had to go hard,'' Bianconi said. ''We knew we had to come out and show some desire.''
Bianconi spent last season watching Marcus Clifford run for 1,519 yards and 19 touchdowns.
''I learned a lot,'' Bianconi remembered. ''He was a tremendous athlete and ran the ball very well. He was smart and had great vision.
''I watched what he did all the time and tried to copy him exactly.''
Bianconi isn't a carbon copy of Clifford as it relates to running style. But the heart, and the results, have been similar.
''He's been a pleasure to coach,'' Young said. ''He's positive, fun to be around and a good student-athlete.''
Bianconi said it was a little frustrating having to wait his turn to be the Maroon Knights' top ballcarrier. But all that pent-up energy certainly has aided his cause this season.
''We have a lot of good athletes here,'' Bianconi said. ''I was a little bit nervous at the beginning (of this season), but once I got in there and got used to the system, I got comfortable with it, and my linemen.
''I trusted them and they trusted me.''
Bianconi wasn't the only newcomer to the Central offense this season. There was a new quarterback in Parker Henry and five new linemen up front.
''Basically, we became a family,'' Bianconi said. ''We leaned upon each other and just practiced hard and believed.''
That belief in each other has translated to the Maroon Knights' 10th appearance in the Super Six.
''It means a lot,'' Bianconi said. ''It means a lot for our program. A lot of people doubted us. But we've practiced really, really hard everyday.
''And here we are.''