Tuesday is steak night at the Olles house in Palatine. It has become a tradition and the family budget has taken a beating. It's a training table for quarterback Ethan Olles' big and burly and bruising friends. Who eats 16 pounds of sirloin at one sitting?
A year ago, Ethan's mother said that she would cook steaks for the offensive linemen after every game in which they prevented the opponent from sacking her son. Oiles was sacked only six times in 11 games and the linemen enjoyed some hearty meals.
This year, Olles has has emerged as the most prolific passer in the state, accounting for 3,041 yards and 27 touchdowns going into Saturday's Class 8A quarterfinal against Loyola in Wilmette. And he has been sacked only three times, not once since Week 3.
The guest list is expanding as fast as the offensive linemen's robust appetites. It includes tackles Josh Baldus and Justin Roberts, guards Tyler Sydlowski and Cody Oversen, center Ron Rouette, reserve lineman Brad Walls, fullback Sam Miller, wide receiver Alex Nawrot and running backs Cam Kuksa and Chaka Kelly.
Mrs. Olles' menu features sirloin steaks, twice-baked potatoes, homemade macaroni and cheese, red velvet cake and two or three cases of Gatorade. Nobody goes away hungry, not even Baldus (6-foot-5, 250 pounds), Roberts (6-foot-6, 285) or Oversen (6-foot-2, 270).
"We're having a lot of dinners at our house, about eight to 10 guys every week. We never run out of food," Ethan said. "Last week, my mom cooked 16 pounds of sirloin steaks. They're big kids. They eat a lot."
It is good payback for protecting Olles, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior who has come a long way since he quarterbacked a 1-8 freshman team. At one time, coach Tyler Donnelly said the very talented but immature, pouting youngster would never quarterback his team.
"As a freshman and sophomore, he didn't work hard. He would pout when things didn't go well," Donnelly said. "But he realized he was wasting his talent. He worked his tail off."
Olles, who always has had a very strong arm, went to Don Beebe's camp and worked with J.R. Rexilius to improve his mechanics. For three months, he worked out twice a week. He competed against other talented quarterbacks, bolstered his confidence, expanded his skills, improved his short game accuracy and learned to read defenses effectively.
When Donnelly called upon him, he was ready. Last year, when Palatine lost to Glenbard North 35-21 in the second round of the playoff to close out a 9-2 campaign, the Pirates' game plan was to throw a lot because Donnelly correctly determined that his team wasn't physical enough to run effectively against its bigger opponent.
"The plan was to see if we could throw a lot against man-to-man coverage," Donnelly said. "Four of our kids got concussions and it all fell apart. But Ethan kept throwing. He threw for 260 yards. We lost but it dawned on us that our strength this year would be Ethan throwing to all of our skill athletes.
"We wouldn't rely on the run anymore. We won't beat Loyola or Glenbard North by running at them. But we can match up with them with our skill kids. We didn't want to hesitate. We have been throwing the ball since the first week and we don't intend to stop. It is our best chance to win."
After losing its opener to three-time defending state champion Montini 40-37 in overtime, Palatine has won 10 games in a row. The offense has amassed 4,814 yards and is averaging 44 points per game. And Olles has shattered Jeff Hecklinski's school single-season passing record along the way.
Olles has completed 233 of 359 passes or 65 percent for 3,041 yards and 27 touchdowns. He also has rushed for 434 yards and five touchdowns.
What is even more amazing about his performance is he is throwing to a lot of receivers in Palatine's hurry up, no huddle, four or five wide, spread offense who weren't even projected to be starters when the season began. One of them was recruited off the hockey team.
Eric Theis has caught 61 passes for 1,011 yards and eight touchdowns. Alex Nawrot has caught 68 for 872 yards and eight touchdowns. Ryan Gronwick has caught 29 for 383 yards and three touchdowns. In four games, Cam Kuksa has caught 27 for 318 yards and two touchdowns. Mike Allen, the ex-hockey player, has caught 35 for 213 yards and two touchdowns.
"All the training he did has helped him," Donnelly said about Olles. "He can throw a great deep ball. He can make all the throws. He can run, too. I think the colleges are just beginning to become aware of him. He is so new to the scene. Ethan is a real success story."
Donnelly mails film clips to college recruiters. On the Internet, Olles impresses with his ability to throw from the end zone, throw accurately from sideline to sideline, throw while running to his right, staying in the pocket despite pressure from pass rushers, running 40 yards up the middle for a touchdown, hitting receivers between two defenders in the end zone, always demonstrating that he is in control.
If he had his choice, Olles would attend Oregon. He wants to play football in college at the highest level he can and Oregon is his dream school. "I have always been a fan. They are my favorite team to watch. They have a great system, so many playmakers, so dynamic," he said.
The last call he got was from North Dakota. He also gets letters from Indiana State and Division III schools.
But Loyola, the rest of the 2012 season and more steak dinners are getting his undivided attention at the moment.
"I'm not surprised by what I have done this year," Olles said. "It isn't just me. The offensive line blocking has been great and the receivers make me look good. The coaches give me confidence by putting the ball in my hands each game. Everything is meshing well. Everything is coming together. Our goal is to play 14 games."
And order more sirloin steaks.