Joe Callahan couldn't have imagined a better first collegiate start than the one he had last week.
The challenge now for the redshirt sophomore quarterback and 2011 Holy Spirit High School graduate from Absecon will be to maintain the high level of play he executed on Sept. 6 for Wesley College of Dover, Del., in the season opener.
Callahan broke two school passing records in the fifth-ranked Wolverines' 33-21 win over No. 20 Widener University (Pa.). The rankings are from D3football.com.
Callahan threw for 510 yards and completed 37 passes, breaking single-game school records that had stood since 2001. He threw for five touchdowns and ran for 13 yards, giving him the national Division III lead in total offense entering this week's games.
"I actually didn't realize we threw that much and I had that many passing yards until after the game one of my coaches told me I broke the school record," Callahan, 20, said Thursday in a phone interview. "It was pretty surprising, but it was pretty exciting at the same time."
Callahan, who had appeared in four games as a freshman in 2011, added that his offensive line gave him "a ton of time" and his receivers were open all game, making it "hard to be uncomfortable."
Junior wide receiver Steve Koudossou caught a school-record 17 balls for a record 266 yards. He tied a record with four touchdown receptions.
"Going into the game plan, we had a lot of passes targeted to him," Callahan said.
"We have a ton of good receivers that you have to cover, and you can't just focus on one receiver. If you just focus on Steve, we have other receivers like Matt Bundy, Ishamar Malcolm (and Jeremiah Howe) who can really do a lot with the ball in their hands.
"It's really difficult to cover or double-cover just one person, but ... Steve really stepped up and had a great game for us."
Callahan's debut as a starter was delayed for one year. During the 2012 preseason, Callahan suffered what he described as a lower body injury similar to a sports hernia.
Coach Mike Drass said the injury was so bad that Callahan could hardly walk. Season-ending surgery followed.
"It's frustrating because when you're injured, you don't feel like you're a part of the team as much because you're not out there practicing," Callahan said.
But he spent time in the press box all last season and learned how to better read defenses, picking up tips from the Wesley coordinators.
"I don't want to say it was good to be hurt, but at the same time it really gave me the chance to take that extra step in the next level to be a better quarterback in the mental category" he said.
Callahan was battling with senior quarterback Justin Sottilare for the starting job last season but was given a medical redshirt, extending his football eligibility by one year.
With Sottilare having graduated, Callahan - who was a second-team Press All-Star as a senior in 2010 - took over as the starter this year.
"We knew he had such a very strong arm. He's a winner," Drass, the Wesley coach, said. "I obviously know of the success he had when he played (at Holy Spirit), but it wasn't a passing offense. But they threw the ball well enough we could tell Joe certainly had the ability to be an outstanding quarterback."
Drass highlighted Callahan's intelligence and ability to process what he sees on the field and translate it into yardage.
"You could see that last year before he got injured, and we certainly saw it in spring football and in preseason (this year)," Drass said.
"I think Joe's a very intelligent young man. He's a dean's list student. He's smarter than me, I know that," Drass said with a laugh.
Callahan will have the ability to build off his impressive first start today as he and the Wolvervines host Salisbury (Md.) University (0-1) today.
"It'll be a hard performance to follow up," Callahan said of last week's performance, "but you have to go into each game thinking you're going to get better and improve. Hopefully I do better than the last start, but it will be tough."
Contact John Russo: