All-State POY: Maine South's Matt Alviti
PARK RIDGE — In a five-week period midway through his sophomore year, Matt Alviti celebrated birthday No. 16 and quarterbacked Maine South to its third consecutive Class 8A football state championship.
Neither event was the highlight of those fall months in 2010.
That moment occurred the day after the 28-7 title-game win against Mount Carmel, a game where Alviti completed 16 of 21 passes.
His high school coach, David Inserra, called with word that Northwestern was prepared to offer a scholarship. Since college coaches can’t instigate a call to a high school sophomore, Alviti followed up on the tip and phoned the Wildcats’ head coach, Pat Fitzgerald. It was Sunday, Nov. 28.
“Surprising and shocking,” Alviti said. “What a great honor to have that first offer, to know that my dream of one day playing Division I football would come true.”
He still had half of his prep career to play and other suitors who would come calling. Alviti spent those last two years demonstrating what made him a player highly pursued by Michigan State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Illinois and Boston College, among others.
Alviti headlines the 77th News-Gazette All-State team as Player of the Year. In February, he will sign a letter of intent to continue his football career at Northwestern.
The good news for Alviti wasn’t guaranteed to be joyous for others associated with the Maine South program. Offensive coordinator Charlie Bliss was aware of the potential pitfalls that could follow a sophomore receiving a major-college offer.
“Here’s a guy who could have slacked off, could have been uncoachable,” Bliss said. “Sometimes, you create a monster.”
The reality of a scholarship to play the game he loved had the opposite effect on Alviti.
“I knew I had to work just as hard, if not harder,” Alviti said. “I never really took a day off. I wanted to prove it wasn’t a one-year thing.
“The people I spend every day with grounded me. My family and friends kept me humble.”
There is no better illustration, Bliss said, than what regularly happened at practice. Alviti, the nation’s 11th-ranked prep quarterback, would routinely run the scout-team offense when it was time for the first-team defense to scrimmage.
“He never stood around and waited for practice to come to him,” Bliss said. “He came to practice. We pick five kids as Practice Player of the Week. He could have gotten that for three years.
“He’s a special breed. Even as a senior, he ran the scout team ‘O’ to make our defense better and to improve his craft. His talent is phenomenal, but him as a person outweighs his talent.”
Alviti is a member of a leadership council at Maine South and also serves on the principal’s advisory council.
“He’s a true leader within the school setting,” Inserra said. “He knows it’s not just about athletics.”
Bliss recalled a conversation with one of the dozens of college coaches who tried to recruit the dual-purpose quarterback who is as adept at running as he is at passing.
“He said, ‘I told him one time I had twins, and then (later) when we talked he asked how my twins were. I was recruiting him, but it was like he was recruiting me,’ ” Bliss related.
The response of the Maine South assistant coach was simple.
“I said, ‘You’re recruiting the right kid,’ ” Bliss said.
He knows from experience. Bliss’ 2-year-old son would sometimes be at football practice. Alviti took notice if the youngster wasn’t there.
“He’d say, ‘How is little Charlie?’ ” Bliss said. “He would be glad to see you and ask about things. He always initiated the conversation. Who does that at that age?”
Who does these things at that age?
At a school that has produced all-state quarterbacks seven times in the past decade, Alviti rewrote the season and career record books.
As a senior, he completed 68 percent of his passes and had just five of his 303 attempts intercepted. He threw for 2,740 yards and rushed for 843, accounting for 47 touchdowns between his arms and his feet.
For his varsity career, Alviti will finish fourth on the all-time IHSA list for total offense (9,746), fifth in career completions (538) and fifth in career passing yardage (7,788).
“We’ve had very good quarterbacks, but none like Matt,” Maine South head coach Inserra said. “Some of the calls he was making at the line go far beyond his years.
“He has a feel for the game, great footwork, great arm strength and a quick release. His size won’t blow you away (6-foot, 195 pounds), but he’s one of the hardest workers we’ve had. He pushes himself harder than anyone else does.”
The youngest of Jim and Rose Alviti’s three children, Matt can trace his unassuming nature to his upbringing.
His father is a physical therapist who works with children with disabilities.
“That has had a huge impact on me,” Alviti said. “I know how fortunate I am, and that’s one reason I’ve worked so hard. He has told me about people who wish they could have my ability and talent.”
Inserra said Alviti is not one to dwell on his personal accomplishments.
“Just because he has talent doesn’t mean he’s above anyone else,” Inserra said. “He knows how to treat people.”
Alviti said his statistical achievements aren’t really his, anyway.
“The big reason is my teammates,” he said. “The guys on the line give me all the time in the world, and the receivers, I distribute the ball to them and let them make plays. The running backs take pressure off of the passing game.
“It’s important that everyone get involved.”
Alviti’s promotion to the varsity — and onto the starting unit — as a sophomore was in keeping with his progression as a player.
He first played tackle football as a second-grader, and during his time in Park Ridge’s Falcon Football youth program he was moved up an age group.
“I played with older, bigger guys, and that helped me tremendously,” Alviti said.
He became such a student of the game that Bliss gave him free rein to call plays or change plays as a senior.
“He is the first quarterback I’ve given full rein to,” Bliss said. “There isn’t a throw Matt can’t make. If you’re a sophomore or junior trying to catch it, you need strong hands and wrists or he will throw the ball right through you.”
Bliss said his quarterback took to heart one piece of advice.
“I told him you have to make people around you better,” Bliss said. “If someone is average, make them good. If they’re good, make them great. Step their game up a little bit.
“One game, he threw to 10 different receivers. He wanted to make sure everyone was part of our offense and contributed. Everyone was getting a piece of the action.”
Alviti likes the quarterback position — which he took up full time as an eighth-grader — and not just when things are going well.
“I love the pressure where everything is on you,” he said, “and if we don’t do well, I’d rather have the criticism on me than anyone else.”
There was very little to criticize. Since becoming the varsity starter in Week 3 as a sophomore, Alviti guided the Hawks to wins in 33 of 35 games.
“He was a kid who would make a 27-yard run with three cuts, and on the next play throw the ball 40 yards down the field on the money,” Inserra said. “He is the most competitive kid I’ve known.
“He tries to make a play on any play. What a prize.”
When Alviti was a freshman, Bliss said he found it difficult to watch the ninth-grade games.
“The freshman coach liked to run the ball,” Bliss said. “I want kids to develop for the next year. They didn’t throw enough. They didn’t know what they had down there.
“I kept trying to tell them. He is a legitimate dual threat, but he wasn’t running the ball or throwing the ball. He was handing it off.
“I asked Matt in the middle of the season, ‘How’s it going down there?’ and he said, ‘Coach, I have the 32-dive down pat.’ They weren’t using his skills. They didn’t know what they had.”
And now, an entire state — as well as collegiate coaches throughout the nation — are well aware.