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Matt Alviti's career hasn't gone as planned, but he's made it work anyway

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The former four-star recruit's journey is one not many players take.

Bowling Green v Northwestern Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

Matt Alviti leans back on a table outside the locker room, and looks out pensively at the nearby window.

He adjusts his headband, and, prompted to reflect on his college career in its totality to that point, a difficult question for any player, he pauses. The pause is partly to allow the ringing sound of the construction outside to finish, but you can tell he’s also trying to find the right words.

Before giving a more detailed answer, he settles on a two word response, which, to those around him, is probably enough to do his complicated tenure as a Division I athlete justice.

"It's tough."

It would be difficult for anyone, Alviti included, to characterize his career. His story involves a lot of conflicting emotions that pull his answer in different directions.

There's been hype, which was there from Day 1. There's been adversity — that hit several times, in the form of both injury and other circumstances. There's been a blend of discontent and fun, though in different ways than he expected. Putting a definitive label on four-plus years, is, like he said, tough.

But the one noticeable omission from that list is regret. That may surprise some people. Even his own mother is surprised, in a way.

To most people in his position, not transferring isn't the right choice. The original dream of being a starting quarterback takes precedence over everything.

Most people would have left.

Matt Alviti isn't most people.


At a young age, Alviti was a leader.

His outgoing personality, which would drive his parents crazy when he went out of his way to say hello to strangers before he was even 10 years old, drew people to him. A good athlete, kids his age wanted to play with him — and dress like him.

His mom, Rose, recalls that when he started wearing Under Armour as a 9 or 10 year-old, his classmates suddenly did too. Matt was comfortable being in that role, though he didn't command attention.

"There are some things you just have," Rose said.

When the local baseball league had its annual draft and Matt would repeatedly go first overall, coaches would say things like, "Who is this kid? No one kid makes that much of a difference on a baseball team," Rose said.

But come the end of several seasons, coaches would often go back to Matt's parents to renege on their doubts and tell them Matt had made a major impact on their teams.

Fast forward to high school and Matt was still leading and dominating, yet in a different sport.

He put up over 3,600 total yards and 36 total touchdowns as a sophomore in 2010, leading his Maine South football team to an Illinois State Championship. He was a true dual-threat quarterback, combining a slippery, elusive running style with a lethal deep ball.

Alviti began receiving high-major offers as a sophomore, and by the end of another stellar season in his junior year, Alviti was a consensus four-star recruit, and big-time college programs were after him — Notre Dame, Michigan State, Nebraska and Northwestern, among others.

He visited Notre Dame multiple times and Northwestern at least once during the fall of his junior year, in preparation for a commitment in the spring.

The Notre Dame offered disappeared, though, when Ohio native and fellow four-star talent Malik Zaire pledged to the Irish in March of 2012. Down to the Spartans and the Wildcats, Alviti eventually decided on nearby Northwestern less than three weeks after Zaire took the Notre Dame offer. For Alviti, Northwestern's location — about a half-hour drive from his home in Park Ridge, Illinois — and academics, along with the possibility to play early, drove the local product to Evanston.

He was a huge get for Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald. At the time of his commitment, Alviti was the second-highest recruit Fitzgerald had ever gotten as a head coach, per 247Sports. And, he was a quarterback, the most important position on the field.

"He was 99 percent confident that he would be a starting quarterback at Northwestern," Rose said. "If not starting, he would at least be on the field. That’s one of the reasons he went to Northwestern. He thought for sure."

Scott Powers/ESPNChicago.com

The three contenders sat together in a room, awaiting what would be a career-altering decision for all of them.

Zack Oliver, Matt Alviti and Clayton Thorson had battled it out all offseason for the starting quarterback job, and this was the culmination of months of work. There was no guarantee the starter would hold onto the job, but this was an important moment nonetheless. Being named a Week 1 starter for your team is a big deal.

It was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mick McCall who delivered the news: Thorson, a redshirt freshman and another highly-recruited signal-caller, had beaten out Oliver, a redshirt senior, and Alviti, a redshirt sophomore.

It wasn't hard to see why Thorson, a youngster with great physical tools, was named the guy, but it stung Alviti anyway. He had come to Northwestern to start, and someone younger than him had just beaten him out.

At the time, Alviti had reason to believe he might still play a decent amount. While redshirting in 2013, he had seen his coaches employ a two-quarterback system with Trevor Siemian, a pocket passer with limited mobility, and Kain Colter, a tremendous runner. Thorson and Alviti fit that mold well enough, with Alviti being the mobile threat of the two.

That dynamic never came to fruition.

Thorson stayed on the field, and, even when he struggled, it was Oliver, another pocket passer, who came to relieve him, though that happened only sparingly.

After playing in four games as a freshman, Alviti appeared in just two as a sophomore, attempting three passes. He didn't record a rushing attempt on the season.

"Growing up, being a competitor, it sucks man," Alviti said. "It was real tough."

The team had gone 10-3 with Thorson at the helm in 2015, so a quarterback change wasn't coming, save for an injury. After a frustrating season, Alviti also needed two hip surgeries.

Alviti credits his teammates for helping him get through those difficult individual times, but it took a great degree of mental fortitude on his part too. He came to Northwestern with NFL dreams, and those were slipping away quickly.

All the while, he continued to grind, both to improve his craft and to be a good teammate. He was discontented, but he was in no way a problem. The team was winning, and Alviti was Thorson's biggest supporter.

"I think there's few men like Matt Alviti," Pat Fitzgerald said. "Other guys you have seen in his situation have typically transferred. He has stuck it out, he's been patient. I think he's learned a lot. I think his willingness to stay committed to his teammates, stay committed to the program, to see it through, not being happy. Trust me, he's not satisfied with his role."

Fitzgerald is right when he says most players in Alviti's shoes would've transferred. Of the top 50 quarterbacks from each of the the 2011-2014 classes, per 247Sports, half of those left their original school. Of four and five-star quarterbacks who didn't start in the first or second season of eligibility, just over 28 percent stayed with the program they started with.

"That's the culture of that position nowadays," longtime college football writer Stewart Mandel, now of the Athletic, said. "If you aren't starting, you know that you can just go somewhere else."

Alviti generated interest, but he had no intention to leave. The reasons he chose Northwestern were still the same, and he had made some of his best friends through Northwestern.

By staying, though, he was effectively letting go of his NFL aspirations. If he transferred, he would've had a better chance to play, presumably, which was necessary for any sort of NFL stock to take shape. And after graduating in the spring of 2017, Alviti would've been eligible immediately.

Still, Alviti accepted his changing dream, one that wouldn't involve playing football after 2017.

"Obviously there’s hindsight 20/20 thinking, ‘Ok, yeah I could’ve left and gone and played,’ Alviti said, "but, at the same time, I was also looking out for the next 40-50 years of my life and setting myself up to be successful off the field.”

Alviti's mother never asked him if he wanted to leave Northwestern, but, as a parent wanting the best for her son, she felt conflicted. Was Matt making a mistake by compromising the chance to get on the field?

"It’s kind of sensitive," Rose said. "You don’t want him 40 years old and sorry that he didn’t try to go play somewhere else. I don't think he trusts — if he went somewhere else, would the same thing happen?"

She remembers sitting in her living room with Matt and watching Zaire start for Notre Dame in the 2014 Music City Bowl, the same team that Matt had rushed for a touchdown against that year in a Northwestern upset win. But Matt didn't get on the field much after that touchdown, and she thought about her son being in Zaire's spot, had he taken the Notre Dame offer earlier. She never asked him about leaving Northwestern, though. She made sure he thought about it, but didn't directly ask him if he wanted to transfer.

In all honestly, neither of the options on the table were really ideal for Alviti. He wanted to start for Northwestern. But, deciding to stay, he embraced his role as a backup, fully supporting the team and its goals. Maybe more importantly, Alviti has fully backed Thorson.

"Coming off the sidelines after after every touchdown pass, every time [Thorson] scores, I’m pretty much the first one to greet him," Alviti said. "I think as a starting quarterback that’s big, when you know you have the guys who are coming for your job, who are pushing you everyday, they’re also supporting you, they’re gonna be there for you. Going out in the next 40, 50 years, I think we’ll still be friends.”

Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports

Matt Alviti is bluntly honest when describing how his career has gone on the field.

He doesn't run from anything — the expectations, the disappointments and his changing goals alike. He sounds like a fifth-year senior, someone who's comfortable with who he is, what he's done and where he's going.

"[Thorson and I] both thought coming in we were gonna play at the next level," Alviti said. "It’s gonna pan out for one of us in Clay, but you know, great for him."

"Obviously I would’ve liked to play more, but at the same time, I tried to be the best teammate I could to support him and I think I’ve done that throughout the way."

Alviti plans to go into either real estate or finance, where he's held multiple internships. Oliver, who now works in the finance world, has given him advice in that area.

But to say Alviti is halfway out the door isn't true in the slightest. If anything, he's more all-in than he was before. Knowing his football days are numbered, he's trying to end his unusual football career on as high a note as he can.

"Right now," he said before the Wisconsin game, "it’s all about the last nine weeks of a sport I’ve played for 17 years of my life. I’m just trying to enjoy the moment and stay in the moment."

Alviti's story serves as an example of redemption in a way that most people wouldn't expect. He had to do it off the field, but he still did it. For a lot of former high school stars, that isn't always the most attractive option. To Alviti, confronting the adversity head-on was the clear choice.

"A lot of [my growth] is more so in life," Alviti said. "Just being able to react to different situations. When you get knocked down, how are you gonna get up and react?"

His mother agrees.

"People can redefine themselves," Rose Alviti said. "When things don’t go your way, keep your head up. [Matt's father, Jim, and I] have been proud with how he’s handled this whole situation."

It would take an unfortunate injury for Alviti to get on the field for major stretches this season, but if that does happen, he'll be ready. When he's been on the field this season, albeit in short stints during blowouts, Alviti's been really good, throwing a late touchdown pass against Duke and adding a 68-yard run against Bowling Green.

When asked about the run, Alviti grins ear-to-ear.

"I haven't run like that in five years."

Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune Photo