OGDEN — Jake Constantine's final game of his freshman season at Ventura College in California came to an end no athlete wants.
After signing with Boise State, where he redshirted in 2016, he transferred mere minutes from his hometown and quarterbacked the junior-college Pirates to an 8-2 record and a berth in a regional playoff game. He threw for 2,385 yards with a 68.4 completion percentage, throwing 28 touchdowns to six interceptions.
That playoff game ended for Constantine after five pass attempts when he suffered an ACL tear in his left knee.
That was Nov. 18, 2017. He had surgery to repair the injury in late December.
Two months later, he signed with Weber State. Days of grueling rehab, sometimes twice a day, continued into August when he battled freshman Kaden Jenks for WSU's starting job.
Eight months after surgery, he was thrust into action during Weber State's game in San Luis Obispo when Jenks left under concussion protocol. He threw a modest 9 of 15 for 84 yards and a key touchdown toss, and the Wildcats defeated Cal Poly 24-17.
He's been the starter since.
"It’s a great feeling playing again in a game," Constantine said. "Since I tore (the ACL) so late in the season, I didn’t know if I’d be ready for this season at all. So everything was just a mystery and playing it month to month approaching the season."
The physical effort to come back to the field in a relatively short window is one thing. But that's not all it took.
"The most important thing Jake did was while he was injured, he did a good job of stealing reps," head coach Jay Hill said. "He was up here watching film all the time, he was learning the offense, he was learning defensive stuff and how we call things. That way, when he was able to take reps, his mental preparation was pretty good.
"You’ve got to have some mental toughness to battle through it."
Constantine has been efficient and the Wildcats are 3-0 in games he's played. He's thrown 39 of 65 (60 percent completion) for 392 yards and four touchdowns, going without a turnover until the Sept. 22 contest against Northern Colorado when he threw two interceptions.
That game included a 46-yard touchdown to Rashid Shaheed, the first real chunk play in the passing game this season, something the Wildcats are still developing.
"That will come. That will come with chemistry, with reps with Jake and the other receivers," quarterback coach Kelly Bills said. "As long as they put in the time and learn from mistakes, those things will get better."
Constantine now seems to be the clear No. 1, but coaches have used Jenks in spots with positive effect. Jenks often runs zone-read option plays to add a wrinkle to the offense. Against Northern Colorado, he tossed an 18-yard touchdown to Darryl Denby that capped an 11-play, 72-yard drive and created a 21-7 lead.
"Both of them understand they have certain strengths we want to utilize," Bills said. "We have no problem playing two quarterbacks if Kaden is going to come in and be an effective player with the role we give him ... They’re both unselfish guys and understand they have talents we want to utilize. It doesn’t make sense to keep that on the bench."
Third-down efficiency and finishing drives have been struggles at times for the Wildcats. The scoring effort gets a boost from other areas, like a Landon Stice fumble return for a touchdown or a Shaheed 100-yard kick return.
But the offense has had its moments, like the 46-yard passing touchdown to Shaheed or Josh Davis' 95-yard touchdown run in the same game. Or, Constantine's read-and-react, 20-yard touchdown to Shaheed at Cal Poly that broke a tie late in the third quarter.
There's a sense around the team that it's a matter of time before the offense joins the defense and special teams in consistency, allowing the Wildcats to put together a truly complete game and validate hopes of repeating last year's historic season.
"I knew it would take a few games just to find our identity," Constantine said. "Once we found it, I think we still have a lot to improve on. I feel like when we hit our full potential, we’ll be impossible to stop."
Weber State continues preparation for its trip to Northern Arizona. Kickoff for that game is 3:30 p.m. MDT.