Unlike some of the other blue-chip quarterbacks who emerged from Santa Margarita Catholic High School and became starters their first year of college, K.J. Costello had to wait for his time to arrive.
That moment finally came Nov. 4, when Costello was named the starting quarterback for Stanford in its Pac-12 game at Washington State.
Costello started a game earlier in the season, but that was because the No. 1 quarterback was injured. This time, he earned the starting nod based on performance.
Costello didn’t fare well at Washington State, as Martin Stadium can be a tough place to play for any visiting quarterback, but he steadily improved over the next three games and landed the Cardinal in the Pac-12 championship game against USC on Dec. 1 in Santa Clara.
“K.J. has done a really nice job of stepping in and making the most of his opportunity — and really protecting the football while making explosive plays down the field,” USC coach Clay Helton told the San Jose Mercury News.
Costello could easily be playing for the Trojans on Friday night.
He broke 19 school records at Santa Margarita, including the 6,948 passing yards he amassed in three seasons as the starter. The previous record belonged to Carson Palmer, who started for the Eagles in the 1996 and ‘97 seasons, then went on to USC, where he became just the second true freshman to start at quarterback for the Trojans.
Palmer went on to win the Heisman Trophy as a senior in 2002, and is currently in his 16th season in the NFL.
Chris Rix was another high-profile quarterback who graduated from Santa Margarita in 2000. He went on to become the only four-year starting quarterback in Florida State history.
Costello didn’t get the opportunity to play as a true freshman, instead redshirting last season as juniors Ryan Burns and Keller Chryst shared the quarterback duties. Chryst won the starting job at the start of this season, but began losing his grip when the Cardinal lost back-to-back games to USC and San Diego State in September.
Chryst then went down with a concussion against UCLA on Sept. 30, and Costello came off the bench, throwing two touchdown passes and running for another in the 58-34 victory. Costello then made his first career start the following week against Arizona State and was steady in the 34-24 win.
Chryst returned from injury and reclaimed the starting role over the next three games, but following a less-than-impressive showing in a 15-14 win against last-place Oregon State on Oct. 26, Costello was named the starter the following week against Washington State.
He has steadily improved with each start, and delivered his best performance in the final regular-season game, throwing four touchdown passes with no interceptions in a 38-20 win against Notre Dame on Nov. 25.
Notre Dame came into the game ranked No. 8 in the country by the Associated Press and Stanford was No. 21.
“Every day, every rep he takes is another experience,” Stanford coach David Shaw told reporters at his weekly news conference following the Stanford game. “He’s learned a lot and he has a lot left to learn. Bottom line for him is he’s got fire, he’s got passion, he’s got a strong arm and he’s an accurate passer.”
And it all started at Santa Margarita.