What a year Fairview quarterback Aidan Atkinson had. The senior to be be had no problem slinging the ball all over the yard, and doing it successfully to boot.
The numbers that he put up in 2018 were more akin to numbers one would see in a video game statline than a high school football boxscore on MaxPreps.
A clear Division I prospect, Atkinson will head to Northwestern in a year, but is looking forward to his senior season with the Knights.
After putting up staggering numbers last season and winning the Gatorade player of the year award, Atkinson took time to chat about what this upcoming season holds for him and his teammates at Fairview.
Question: After the year you had last year, do you feel like there are more expectations on you for your senior season?
Atkinson: Given the abilities of the receivers that I had, I think a lot was expected just because those guys had been playing for a couple of years and with having to have either reload and having to keep some new guys and new things.
I don't think the expectations are to throw for more touchdowns or throw for more yards. I think it's just in terms of the expectations perspective it's just produce more in terms of winning more games and getting further in the playoffs. Especially now that I'm a senior and I have a bigger leadership role in the team. I don't think that the expectations are to throw fo 55 touchdowns again this year.
I think it's more so taking a team deeper into the playoffs and being one of those teams that you can look back with Coach (Tom McCartney) and be like, okay, that was one of his better teams.
Q: So, how do you reconcile that? If you're not going to throw for 55 touchdowns, how is that going to result in the team winning more games?
Atkinson: It's even spread offensively. And then also probably, you know, playing deeper into the class means you're going to play better teams and spreading the ball around a little bit more in terms of the running backs, and trying to be more, more 60/40 in terms of passing run instead of 90/10.
I don't think it's expected that I'll throw for that many touchdowns, but I do think it's still possible to win games. We were putting up like 60 and sometimes there were 50 and 60 points (per game) and a lot of the games we won by a lot.
But we could have won those games by putting up 30 points and then being done. I don't think it's going to be as crazy as it was last year, but that still doesn't mean that we're not going to be winning as many football games. Does that make sense?
Q: Was there ever a point where even you were amazed with what was going on with the production from the offense?
Atkinson: No, no, not at all. I mean, we do so much stuff in the offseason. It was kind of expected knowing we had three receivers that have already played those traditions for the year prior.
And then we had a whole offseason together doing 7-on-7 in the winter and then 7-on-7 in the spring and then the whole summer. Honestly it was something that we kind of all expected because of the work that we put in.
Q: How does the offseason work from last year compare to this season so far?
Atkinson: It's probably a different role, teaching all the new guys everything that the old guys had, what I liked about what they did.
And then the new receivers and the new guys, they obviously bring a new dynamic and a new level of play that might be a little different and a little better than when the guys from last year.
Overall in this offseason and just having to teach and having to establish myself as a leader. Last year I didn't really have to do that. We had a great senior class who knew what they wanted to do and we were already all there in front of the talent and skills.
This year we're definitely gonna have to make strides in the offseason and that's going to be indicative of the leadership role that the seniors and the captains have to step into, and that's something that's definitely changed from last year.
Q: What made Northwestern such an appealing school for you?
Atkinson: I think it just checked all the boxes in terms of you had consistent top-25 football team; last year they finished in the top 25 this year they're preseason top-25. And then being so close to Chicago and having those opportunities that to further your education. There's also the chance to play as opposed to some of the other gigantic schools that always recruit big.
That was appealing as well as the coaching staff. I don't think you can find a better coaching staff anywhere. You know, I mean, Coach (Pat) Fitz(gerald) and (quarterbacks) coach (Mick) McCall have been there for 10, 15 years and they've done a great job.
Then obviously being the program they are, they're pro-style. They require pro-style QB's. All those things kind of mixed together. I don't think there's any other program in the country that can really realistically compete with everything that they have, except for maybe like a Stanford, but even then I still chose Northwestern.
Q: We had a guy in Ty Evans who committed early in his junior year, then some coaching changes happened and he ended up committing to three schools from the time his junior season started to the time he graduated.
Why is it so important to commit early and make sure everyone knows about it?
Atkinson: It's a benefit because a quarterback is the leader on the team and Northwestern, they always have their quarterbacks commit first so that everybody knows this guy's for real. And when you stick it out with the team for as long as I've stuck it out with Northwestern, when you step on campus, everybody knows what you've already committed to the team. Everybody knows how much you care about the team. And when you say something, it means something and your word won't be taken for granted.
Being able to commit early and you know, being the first guy on the team and establish yourself in that leadership role, even from a kid in high school, will inevitably translate to when you're there your first day on campus.
And so committing early and knowing what you want and then actually going through with that, a lot of kids are hesitant to pull the trigger on that. But as a quarterback it's something that absolutely a necessity in terms of the position that we're put on.
Q: What's the one thing you know today that maybe you didn't know last year or two years ago?
Atkinson: Just how good the Fairview offense can be and just the level that we can get to if we put in the work that's required.
The numbers were a little insane and I did expect us to be that good. But when all the guys put in the time and the work in the offseason, seeing what they were able to do was really cool and not just for me giving them the ball but from them being able to do their own thing with the ball and not just catching and get tackled, but do something really special with it.
Knowing that when you put deposits in the bank in terms of your footwork drills in the morning, lift and spring ball practices that you're going to be able to take withdraws out later in the season and that's a real thing.
To put in all that time, that work does get you results. That would be the one thing that I didn't truly know last year compared to this year.
Q: What needs to happen this year for you to consider your senior season successful?
Atkinson: First of all, establishing the brotherhood within the guys that can last a lifetime. I think if you can establish that and be super close with your brothers and the rest of the team, then that will translate into success.
Having that, but then also winning a state championship. We don't put in all these hours and hours of work for no reason. And in anything that you do, you should try to be the best. And in our case, the bar is set by winning the state championship. And if you don't win a state championship, you're not the best and it's kind of plain and simple with that. There's no middle line with that.
So being able to win a championship and then establishing relationships and a brotherhood with the guys that will last the lifetime is something that a football can make happen if you allow it to.
So being able to do that is definitely something that will define success for me and success for the rest of the team for my senior year.