Once a game begins, it is easy to see why Connor Finucane has become the kind of dual threat most football fans don’t know about.

The 6-foot-4, 280-pound Catholic High senior is that rare commodity, a lineman who starts on offense and defense at a Class 5A school. But that isn’t the most impressive or intriguing thing about Finucane.

“As a coach, he holds you accountable. You had better be at the top of your game when you’re coaching Connor,” Catholic coach Gabe Fertitta said. “God forbid that you draw up a play on the board for the offense and there’s an unblocked player. He raises his hand and points it out. ‘Did you do all your homework coach? Is this play going to work?’ His mind works all the time — he analyzes everything.”

Off the field, Finucane is a National Merit Scholar semifinalist who has scored a 32 on the ACT. And a first-team All-Metro wrestler as a heavyweight competitor last spring. Though he is listed as a Louisiana Tech commitment on most recruiting websites, Finucane is eager for a fall visit to the United States Military Academy at West Point.

To say the soft-spoken Finucane has come a long way since entering ninth grade as a 6-foot-1, 185-pound football hopeful is an understatement. He is a player to watch when the third-ranked Bears (2-0) travel to take on fourth-ranked University (1-1) of Class 3A at 7 p.m. Friday.

“I think we have only seen a glimpse of our real potential so far,” Finucane said. “We worked hard over the summer and were able to cash the check … win the last two weeks. But there are ways to get better. When it comes to football, it’s good to take a step back and look at things scheme-wise.”

After his freshman season, Finucane realized he needed to systematically change some things. When Catholic brought in New Orleans Saints’ nutritionist Jamie Meeks as a guest speaker two years ago, Finucane put what he learned into action.

“There are not that many opportunities on the field for a 185-pound guy. My sophomore year, I started to see that I had the potential to do good things in football,” Finucane said. “But I knew my body needed to add weight and I came up with a plan.”

Fertitta said the sight of Finucane with a lunch box around his neck is common. It includes his lunch and also a variety of the proper snacks for late morning, before and after practice.

“You throw a nugget at Connor about anything and he’ll go dig up whatever he needs to know,” Fertitta said. “That’s what he did after Jamie Meeks visited. He studied it and had a plan. It took him a while to gain the weight, but he made sure to do it the right way. He doesn’t count on me to have the right pre-game meal, either. He brings his own. He also makes sure he manages his sleep and workouts.

“In terms of preparation for a game, I’ve never had anybody quite like him. We throw a lot out them … the plan can be really different each week and he plays both offense and defense. Connor absorbs it. He’s so disciplined.”

Rest assured, the image of Finucane as a sponge is not what opponents see. As a junior, he started on defense and was a spot player on offense. After compiling a 37-7 record in wrestling, including a third-place Division I finish, Finucane was in his best shape ever physically, so Catholic coaches made him a two-way starter.

In last week’s 24-17 victory over North Little Rock at Shreveport’s Battle on the Border showcase, Finucane played nearly 100 snaps. Though he is projected to play center in college, Finucane plays right tackle for the Bears. His provided a key block on Josh Parker’s 92-yard touchdown run. Defensively, North Little Rock opted to run away from Finucane, but he made his share of plays. He is part of a lineman group that helps anchor the Bears on both sides of the ball.

“When I found out I was going to play more both ways, I was excited about it,” Finucane said. “I like having more responsibility. I want to be a better leader every day. I look at the coaches and teachers around me as role models. I did what they do.”

Others, including Fertitta can’t wait to see what Finucane does next.

“He’s something,” Fertitta said.

Email Robin Fambrough at rfambrough@theadvocate.com