The wave of positive momentum coursing through Northwestern’s offseason is gravy. Superflous ornamentation. Purple and white icing. A layer of sudden success Matt Alviti didn’t know he was signing up for this early in his college career. When he committed to the Wildcats last April, Alviti knew he was joining a program with pristine academic credentials, a steadily rising football program a convenient Chicago-area location and a coach with the personality and football acumen to push things in the right direction.
It was a package he couldn’t turn down. It was not a 10-win outfit with a loaded recruiting class and a rapid bump in reputational and on-field success blowing all sorts of new optimism into a previously mediocre, seven-win, slowly improving program.
Now Alviti looks up and sees Pat Fitzgerald, and a team that “had an opportunity to play for the Rose Bowl and go 13-0” and a recruiting class he knows is “top-15”; and to think, Alviti – who held offers from national championship participant Notre Dame, Nebraska, Michigan State and others – chose Northwestern before all of it became live and actual. He chose the Wildcats without knowing what would happen over the next 12 months, which is exactly what has made everything so fulfilling.
“It’s been awesome to watch them go through this season,” Alviti said Saturday. “They had a great year, and it was just exciting to be there for most of the home games.”
Confirmation bias is an easy card to play in a situation like this, but when Alviti looks at Northwestern, at the recent surge in recruiting, he sees the idyllic blend of high character and high motivation and academic priority that fits Fitzgerald’s image of what a Northwestern player should be.
It’s not a reflection of Northwestern’s 10-win season and bowl victory, but of Fitzgerald himself, and the way Northwestern’s coach swayed Alviti over a long two-year recruitment with the same tropes about leadership and character and discipline and building “young men” with upstanding personalities and morals.
“It just shows that coach Fitz and the whole coaching staff are finding the right guys,” he said of Northwestern’s 2014 recruiting class. “They want to commit to a program like Northwestern knowing its about academics and football. It’s pretty special.”
You may be tempted to look at one member of Northwestern’s 2014 class and raise eyebrows about Alviti’s presumed rise to eventual starter’s status. That was the broad consensus when Alviti committed last season – that he would calmly transition from a spread offense at Maine South (Ill.) High School into Mick McCall’s wide-open spread attack and take Northwestern’s offense to a new level, that a local product could be the singular talent Fitzgerald needed to make his breakthrough.
That last part came earlier than most expected. Northwestern won 10 games last season, and it no doubt captured the then-undecided mind of four-star quarterback and Wheaton North High signal caller Clayton Thorson, who announced his commitment in March. Thorson may or may not switch to wide receiver, but the optics – the verbal commitment of an Illinois quarterback with equal (or near-equal) national scouting love just one year later – could have made any heralded QB question his path to future starterdom. Anything from nervous to anxious to outright paranoid insecurity would have made absolute sense.
Added motivation was the only emotion, if any at all, Thorson’s commitment evoked out of Alviti.
“That’s awesome,” he said of Thorson committing to the Wildcats. “You have to compete wherever you’re going to school. It’s great for him and great for us in the future.”
He realizes his ability to directly influence Northwestern’s win total this season – which he guesses will be “hopefully 12-1 or 11-2” – is an unlikely proposition. Alviti expects to compete for playing time in 2013 but acknowledged the likelihood he will take a redshirt season first.
The delay won’t prevent Alviti from pursuing other goals. Getting off to a great start in the classroom is the first item on his list. “I want at least a 3.2 or 3.5 GPA,” he said. The team weight-training complex is another place you can expect to find Alviti anytime after June 23, when Alviti and most (if not all) of the 2013 class plans to report to Evanston.
Getting bigger and stronger will be main points of emphasis for the 6’0’’, 185-pound quarterback, right along with learning McCall’s offense to a T, so that when he’s ready to step in, his already spread-conditioned skill set can hit the ground running. He also hopes to undertake whatever community service work he can.
“I’m definitely excited,” he said.
If his first year after committing to Northwestern saw the Wildcats have their most successful season of Fitzgerald’s tenure, both on and off the field, his excitement for the 2013 season, redshirt or no, is well understood.