The recent rise in successful true freshman quarterbacks around the country and the ascent of Northwestern football lead to lofty expectations for Matt Alviti, the former four-star QB from nearby Maine South.
Alviti redshirted behind Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian in 2013, but this spring, he still sits behind Siemian and Zack Oliver. While classmates Warren Long and Matthew Harris have emerged as contributors, Alviti has to play the waiting game.
For the most intricate position in football, that game feels especially long.
"As a quarterback, you have to know what every position is doing," Alviti told PurpleWildcats.com after Saturday's open practice. "You need to know routes, protections, and what the defense is showing at all times.
"You need to know where to go with the ball on every play and in every situation. But I need to know what I have to do before anything else."
That process included a season of scout team reps, frequent meetings with Colter and Siemian, and a lengthy study of NU's speed-heavy playbook.
Understanding offensive line schemes has been especially tough, Alviti admits, but the hardest part of the process is balancing the need for patience with an urgency to get in games.
It seems that patience is finally starting to reap rewards, though. Alviti had what he called his best practice of the season Saturday, hitting Christian Jones and Jayme Taylor on a pair of impressive throws. His mobility hasn't been displayed much, but he certainly looks to have improved since last fall.
"I think he's done a really good job," Siemian said Saturday. "Obviously learning the playbook as a young guy is tough at any position, but it's particularly hard at quarterback. That was the biggest jump I had to make, and I think he's ahead of where I was at this point."
Siemian noted that he first felt comfortable with the Northwestern offense early in fall camp his redshirt freshman year. Alviti, meanwhile, believes he's turned a corner in the past week.
What does being comfortable with the system look like? For a dynamic athlete like Alviti, it means playing without hesitation. Alviti continuously stresses the word "trust. Playbook knowledge has to be applied and processed in a three-second window, he said, and knowing where the ball is going well before that window closes is the goal this spring.
Northwestern's upcoming slate of practices will be a series of teachable moments, but Alviti has bigger expectations for 2014.
"I just want to get on the field. I think I can be a great leader," he said. "I think I've been catching on real quick. I hit a lull after a week and a half this spring, but now I have a lot more confidence."
Alviti's progression will be one of the most important projects of the offseason. The waiting game continues to play out, but with patience, success in real football games will come next.