Charlie Bliss has been working with Chicago-area quarterbacks for the past few decades, coached nine consecutive all-state signal-callers and five state championship teams at Park Ridge (Ill.) Maine South. So he's seen just about everything when it comes to the position.
At least he thought he had.
But even he was floored when a 13-year-old Matt Alviti walked into his weekly Sunday quarterback seminar five years ago as a seventh-grader.
"I didn't know the boy, and he's here this kid who takes a high school football and throws it to me," Bliss recalls. "He picks it up and whips it at me and throws it about 40 feet over my head and 30 yards past me. I was impressed -- not with his accuracy -- but I was impressed right from the get go."
In the half-decade since, Alviti, now a junior at Maine South, has improved his accuracy just a little bit -- at least enough to have Michigan State, Northwestern and Notre Dame all competing for his commitment.
At Maine South, where Bliss coaches the quarterbacks and coordinates the team's spread offense, quarterbacks are bred to be state champions and Division I prospects. Before Alviti took over the reins in the middle of the 2010 season, Maine South was coming off consecutive state titles with two different quarterbacks. At the time, the program had four titles altogether -- with four different quarterbacks.
Recent quarterbacks ended up at FBS programs Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan, Miami (Ohio), Northern Illinois and Vanderbilt. Another won an NAIA championship this past season.
And David Inserra, Maine South's head coach and a member of the staff since 1990, says Alviti is the best yet.
"His arm strength is incredible, can make all the throws, great feet, extremely elusive, throws well on the run," Inserra said. "He's by the far the best quarterback all-time [at Maine South], and we've had many successful ones."
"He's beyond those guys in terms of skill set. He's as fast as the guys we've had and has a strong arm. And he's a student of the game. He takes a lot of pride in studying film, studying other quarterbacks, studying college film."
Alviti did not have the greatest start at Maine South, though. Following consecutive state titles in 2008 and 2009, Alviti, a sophomore, and junior Jimmy Frankos spent the summer battling for the starting job and split reps. The first two games of the season, the two rotated every series. Maine South started 0-2.
Inserra admits he was hardheaded, thinking they would be the staff to debunk the oldest adage about the position: If you have two quarterbacks, you have none. But the week before Maine South's third game of the year, Inserra turned to Alviti to take over as the unquestioned starter and the leader and future of the program.
"There was definitely a lot of pressure coming in and having two state champions ahead of us," Alviti said.
Clearly, Alviti is at his best under pressure, because Maine South reeled off 12 wins in a row en route to another state championship.
"He's a smooth character," Inserra said. "He doesn't get rattled."
There was never any question about Alviti's physical tools. Bliss says there is not a play in Maine South's playbook he can't call, and he says that is not an exaggeration. Instead, it took a few games for Alviti to find that moxie necessary for a quarterback to be an effective team leader and player. The mental part of the game had to catch up to Alviti's arm.
"He couldn't make the dummy calls or look one way and then look the other," Bliss said. "So I told Matt to go to a few sophomore games and tell me what you think. He went to a couple games and said 'Man, that is slow.' Then I knew it caught up to him."
Alviti's junior season wouldn't end with a state title, though. As the second seed, Maine South was upset in the second round of the playoffs.
"We didn't expect to lose," said Alviti, who almost led a second-half comeback from down 17 points in that loss. "We're working harder and growing together as a team. Just never want to have that feeling again."
Alviti hardly needs a second state title to cement his legacy at Maine South. He already has a championship and will play for a BCS program.
A second championship as a senior, though, would separate Alviti from the rest of Maine South's championship quarterbacks. He would be the first quarterback at Maine South to win multiple titles.
"He doesn't walk around bragging; he wants to prove he's the best," Inserra said. "He knows he can be the first guy to [win multiple titles]. It's making him work that much harder."
Jared Shanker covers Midwest recruiting. He can be reached at email@example.com.