Charlie Bliss, the mastermind behind Maine South's explosive spread option offense, knew Matt Alviti was a special talent from the first time he saw him as an eighth grader.
"I saw him throwing the ball for the first time in the field house," Bliss recalled. "He picked up a ball off the floor and threw it 20 yards over my head and 40 years beyond me. Wow. I liked what I saw. I knew we had something very special."
Maine South coach David Inserra knew, too. Alviti wasn't a secret or a sleeper. His brother John was a wide receiver on the 2008 state championship team. Everybody knew Matt was a very good athlete in football and basketball in seventh and eighth grade.
"When he came in as a freshman, we knew he had a chance to be one of the best ever. Athletically, he was along the line of Charlie Goro," said Inserra, already comparing him to the 2008 Player of the Year.
"The thing that set him apart as a freshman was he could throw the ball like no other, like a pitcher with a 95 miles per hour fastball. You can't develop that. He had arm strength beyond anyone we had ever coached."
Now, four years later, as he completing his senior season, Alviti has met or exceeded everyone's expectations and is closing out a spectacular career as one of the most prolific quarterbacks in state history. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder truly is Illinois' Player of the Year for 2012.
Going into this weekend's game against Glenbard North in the quarterfinals of the Class 8A playoff, Alviti has led the top-ranked and unbeaten Hawks by completing 195 of 283 passes for 2,625 yards and 28 touchdowns while rushing 137 times for 777 yards and 15 touchdowns.
In Maine South's 42-7 romp over Lane Tech in the opening round, Alviti ran for one touchdown and completed 25 of 36 passes for 325 yards and five touchdowns.
In last Saturday's 27-13 victory over Conant, he rushed for 115 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 129 yards and one touchdown.
"Without him, there is a big difference in our team," Inserra said. "In my mind he is the most valuable player, the player of the year. With Matt, he will be the best player on the field in every game. when you have that player on your side, you should do spectacular things. He is the best we have had."
Alviti is the sixth Maine South product to earn Player of the Year recognition, two more than the next closest school. He follows Tom Spotts (1967), Jason Loerzel (1994), Sean Price (2003), Charlie Goro (2008) and Matt Perez (2009).
"That's awesome, a great honor," Alviti said. "I've put in a lot of work for the last three years, trying to bring the award back to Maine South. Price got it. Goro got it. Perez got it. It was motivation for me. I looked up to those guys. I wanted to accomplish that honor for myself."
Alviti has guided the Park Ridge school to 33 victories in 36 games. As a sophomore, he passed for 3,150 yards and 24 touchdowns as Maine South won the Class 8A championship for the third year in a row. In three years, he has completed 66 percent of his passes (527 of 804) for 7,673 yards and 78 touchdowns. He has rushed 379 times for 1,889 yards and 39 touchdowns.
According to the Illinois High School Association's record book, only three players in state history have amassed more yards of total offense in a career, only four have completed more passes in a career and only four have passed for more yardage in a career.
"Over the years, I've improved a lot skill-wise. But my knowledge of the game has increased even more," Alviti said. "As a sophomore, I had knowledge but not as much understanding as I do now. Now I understand the front seven, they way they play, when they will blitz. I can audible out of a play based on the defensive formation. I didn't understand it as a sophomore."
Inserra said Alviti has "absolute maturity on the field. He definitely is a second coach. His approach to the game, his understanding, is so far ahead of anyone we have coached."
"He takes pride in doing 40-yard sprints and winning them," Inserra said. "We never have to say he is best and he has to work harder because he already pushing himself. It's fun to coach a kid like that. He places demands on himself beyond what we ask of him. He wants to be the absolute best in all things that it takes to get there."
Bliss has helped to develop several outstanding quarterbacks in the Maine South system, including Tony Wnek, Shawn Kain, Sean Price, Tyler Knight, Charlie Goro and Tyler Benz.
"Alviti is the best of all," Bliss said. "He can do so much. If there is a knock on him, it is that he tries to do too much. When the game is on the line, he wants the ball and he will make the play. He has done it time and time again.
"He doesn't have a bad day. He makes people around him better. Here is a guy who has eight different guys catching balls. All of them get a chance to contribute to the offense and Matt makes it happen."
Bliss said what separates Alviti from others is his arm strength and his work ethic. "He is an animal in the weight room in the off-season. And he runs track (outdoor 100 and 400 relay, indoor 50). He is such a competitor. He has nervous energy for every game."
For all of his skills, Alviti prefers to be characterized as "a great leader, a guy who plays for his teammates and coaches, a good and smart quarterback who makes smart decisions and can make big plays."
With his arm and his feet. Inserra added another dimension to Alviti's offensive arsenal this season. Without a Perez in the backfield, he asked Alviti to run more. And he has responded.
"He always starts with the ball in his hands. It's a way to spring him open," Inserra said. "We use those schemes to keep the ball in his hands. We have to use him to run to take the pressure off the pass. Opponents use a box-and-one to defend against him, one guy on him all the time."
Alviti loves the challenge to run or throw. "It is exciting when they call your number to run and make decisions on your own and read defenses and get everyone involved in the game," he said.
"I'm running more this year. It has opened up so much more. People are keying on our running game and it takes pressure off our passing game. I am able to throw it more. Then when they adjust to our passing game, I can run the ball more efficiently. I'm 10-15 pounds heavier than last year. I can take a hit better. I'm more explosive. My first step is quicker."
Which is why he committed to Northwestern. "It's a great fit. I knew I'd fit into their system. It's the same as we run at Maine South, all uptempo, control the ball and control the clock. Against Boston College, they ran 100 players. For me, it's an opportunity to run and throw. It's exciting when they call your number," he said.
"There is no question that he can play in the Big Ten," Bliss said. "He can run and make things happen running and throwing. There is no throw that he can't make. Some guys are throwers and some are passers. He is a passer. A thrower is a guy who can make some throws but can't throw on time or feather a pass. A passer knows the timing and how to anticipate guys to get open."
Alviti's goal is to quarterback his second state championship team in three years. Last year's stunning second-round loss to Stevenson remains a disappointing but distant memory, something not to be repeated.
"I'm focusing on the present and future rather than the past," he said. "I don't want it to happen again. But I can't think about last year's playoff now. We are playing great. We have a lot of talent, a lot of hard workers. We have 44 seniors on the team. We have stuck together for four years. A lot of us have played together for a long time. Our motto is: Purpose. We have a plan and a goal every day, to get better."