From the time he was in third grade, playing football for the Park Ridge Falcons, Matt Alviti was being groomed to follow in the long and distinguished tradition of Maine South quarterbacks, in the footsteps of Tom Fiddler, John Schacke, Shawn Kain, Tony Wnek, Sean Price, Tyler Knight, Charlie Goro and Tyler Benz.
Alviti participated in the youth program for eight years. He always attended home games at Maine South. When Alviti was an eighth grader, his brother was a senior receiver on Goro's state championship team. Before his sophomore year, he knew he would be a candidate for the starting position.
"He could be the best quarterback we have ever had," said longtime offensive coordinator Charlie Bliss. "He is ahead of where Price and Goro were as sophomores. He is a quarterback who love to get better. He doesn't play like a normal sophomore quarterback."
But Alviti's sophomore season didn't start out as it was scripted. Bliss and head coach Dave Inserra opted to rotate Alviti and junior Jimmy Frankos. The strategy didn't work out. Maine South, seeking its third state title in a row, had its 28-game winning streak scuttled by Schaumburg and top-ranked Wheaton Warrenville South in the first two games.
"In my heart, I knew I had to make a decision sooner or later," Bliss said. "The offense had no rhythm. I take a lot of the blame because I was trying to see how it could work out. I was bull-headed. It had worked out all summer long and I thought maybe we had something special. They were two special kids who had worked hard to play quarterback."
Finally, Inserra and Bliss admitted that the team had to be retooled. They went back to the drawing board. They had to choose one quarterback. Alviti or Frankos? A system of rotating quarterbacks hadn't worked since Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin with the old Los Angeles Rams in the 1950s.
They chose Alviti. Since then, the 6-0, 175-pound sophomore has guided Maine South to 11 victories in a row and a spot in the Class 8A championship game against Mount Carmel on Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
"As a quarterback type, Alviti is so much different than Frankos," Bliss said. "He is more of a spread quarterback, a body type that fits our offense better, our best fit. He is a dual quarterback. He can run and throw and he is fast. He has a quick release. He makes plays. He is fearless and isn't intimidated. He watches film all the time. He will be our quarterback of the future."
On Tuesday after the nationally televised loss to Wheaton Warrenville South, Inserra approached Alviti during a gym class and said: "It's your job to lose now. Take the team over."
"It put a big smile on my face," Alviti said. "I took it as a great challenge. At first, it was intimidating. Could I do it? Could I follow in the great tradition of Maine South quarterbacks, Price and Knight and Goro, guys who led their teams to state? But it is a challenge. I had to play for the people now and the past and in the future."
With Alviti directing the offense, Maine South has been unbeatable. He has passed for more than 2,500 yards, throwing to Frankos, Scott Derrick, Luke Motley and Imran Khan. And 5-4, 165-pound Paul Preston has taken pressure off Alviti by emerging as a ball-carrying threat.
Frankos took the coaches' decision with a lot of maturity. He found another role. He became one of Alviti's receivers. In the semifinal victory over Loyola, he converted three field goals.
"The offense is playing well and the defense has been unbelievable. Everybody talks about the offense at Maine South. But the defense doesn't get the credit it deserves," said Alviti, pointing to the leadership of junior linebacker Tyler Fahey.
In fact, Alviti believes the 2010 squad is every bit as good as the 2008 and 2009 state championship teams that featured Goro, Benz and running back Matt Perez. Goro was the Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year in 2008 while Perez earned the award in 2009.
"Pressure got to us in the first two weeks," Alviti admitted. "But after we were 0-2, ittook the pressure off us. We fell under the radar. People gave up on us. But we came together after the Wheaton Warrenville South loss. We worked harder. We prepared better. We studied more film. We didn't want to have a .500 season. We wanted to be back where we are this weekend."