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updated: 11/29/2012 3:23 PM

All said and done, Palatine's Olles is No. 1

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  • Ethan Olles directed a prolific Palatine offense that advanced to the Class 8A state quarterfinals. Here, Loyola's John Rushin and Darby Goodwin apply defensive heat in the Pirates' last game of the season in Wilmette.

      Ethan Olles directed a prolific Palatine offense that advanced to the Class 8A state quarterfinals. Here, Loyola's John Rushin and Darby Goodwin apply defensive heat in the Pirates' last game of the season in Wilmette.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

By Ryan O’Gara
Daily Herald Correspondent

One day in July of 2011, the Palatine football team was passing out jerseys for the upcoming season.

Since they didn't have varsity jerseys in single digits, junior Ethan Olles chose the number 12.

Classmate Ryan Gronwick settled on number 11, which happened to be the same jersey all-state quarterback Cody Bobbit wore in leading the Pirates to the Class 8A quarterfinals the season before.

Olles looked over at Gronwick and remarked, "I would never want to wear number 11."

Standing nearby, head coach Tyler Donnelly wondered, "Why not?"

"Can you imagine trying to fill Cody's shoes?" Olles answered. "No, thank you."

Some 16 months later, it's a conversation both Donnelly and Olles can smile about. That's because the senior quarterback has not only filled Bobbit's shoes but created an even larger pair for the incumbent.

Olles produced one of the best seasons in state history in completing 249 of his 399 passes for a state-leading 3,211 passing yards and 27 touchdowns.

The passing yards are the 19th most in IHSA history. And coupled with his 441 rushing yards, Olles ranks seventh all-time in total yards for a single season.

In his two seasons as the starting quarterback, Palatine was a perfect 16-0 in Mid-Suburban play.

The perfect opportunity to honor him is now: Olles is the captain the 2012 Northwest all-area football team.

Excelling at quarterback is nothing new at Palatine. The Pirates have a long history of all-state quarterbacks with the likes of Jim Stauner (1971), Dave Sharkey (1987), Randy Hecklinski (1989), Jeff Hecklinski (1992), Ken Stopka (1996), Sergio Lund (1997) and most recently, Matt Rossi (2008) and Bobbit (2010).

That Olles broke All-American Jeff Hecklinski's school passing record of 2,387 yards wasn't totally inconceivable for a team that passes so frequently. But by over 800 yards?

"We took it week by week, executed the game plan and everything just fell into place," Olles said. "Now I'm getting credit for things that my team helped me accomplish."

And no one is more surprised at Olles' success than Donnelly.

Just two years ago, Donnelly swore to his father, Jim, that Olles would never play a single down at quarterback on varsity.

After Olles quarterbacked a group that went 1-8 as freshman to an 8-0-1 mark as sophomores despite having classmates Josh Baldus, Jesse Bobbit, Lucas Rago, Dan Riddle and John Serio already on varsity, Jim was convinced who should replace Cody Bobbit the following season.

Olles clearly had the ability, but questions persisted about his attitude.

"My dad would tell me, 'You're missing out on a great quarterback,'" Donnelly recalled. "And I said, 'You don't know what his attitude is like. He's a pouter, he's a whiner, he's soft and he makes excuses. He will never, ever play for us.' "

True to his word, Donnelly started the following summer with six players in the race to start at quarterback in the 2011 season: senior Kurt Becker and juniors Jesse Bobbit, Gronwick, Cam Kuksa, Serio and Olles.

"That's how unsure I was of Ethan Olles being our quarterback," Donnelly said.

Olles wound up winning the job, but it wasn't smooth sailing from there.

While the team was racking up the victories behind the running game of Serio and Kuksa, there were times that Donnelly grew so frustrated with Olles that he demoted him to the scout team.

"Every kid, you have to coach differently," Donnelly said. "He's the type that once I yell at him, then he plays well. Other kids, if I ever yelled at them, would play the worst game of their life."

"He's a great coach," Olles said of Donnelly. "He knows what makes kids play better, and that's what made me play better. He'd get on me, demote me and spark something inside of me that made me play a lot better."

At some point during that junior season, the light bulb went on for Olles and things began to change.

Come playoff time, it was apparent Olles had grown up. So much so that after a second-round loss to Glenbard North in which Olles threw for 260 yards, Donnelly and the rest of the coaching staff decided to restructure the offense this season to feature Olles. He was ready for the added responsibility.

"I matured a lot and realized how immature I was," Olles said. "I showed my emotions too much on the field. I had to grow up and learn how to play the game. I really changed a lot."

Olles continued to grow as a leader in the off-season, hitting the weights and staying after to ask questions. He drove an hour to Aurora twice per week for three months to participate in a quarterback camp with Don Beebe.

Ron Rouette started all 12 games at center this season for the Pirates, but that wouldn't have been possible if Olles hadn't convinced Donnelly to allow Rouette to come out for the team after he missed summer workouts to take summer classes.

And when this season began, Olles continued a tradition he started last year of taking care of his offensive line. Baldus, Tyler Sydlowski, Rouette, Cody Oversen and Justin Roberts were all regulars at the Olles house for Tuesday night dinner and dessert, courtesy of Ethan's mom, Janet.

"Linemen, in my mind, have the toughest job on the field," Olles said. "And they're doing it all for me, so I might as well give them something to show my appreciation, and hopefully they'll keep blocking for me."

He put in all of the work and earned everyone's respect, including Donnelly's.

That growth enabled Olles to deal with his biggest challenge this fall.

Two of Olles' top targets in Kuksa and Bobbit went down in the season opener at Montini and suddenly a team that was expected to roll through the conference seemed a bit vulnerable.

All Olles did was throw for over 300 yards on five different occasions and in Palatine's 10-game winning streak that ended in the 8A quarterfinals to Loyola, the Pirates won by at least two touchdowns in nine of those games.

"Had he never changed, he never would have been able to keep this team together and do what he did throughout the season," Donnelly said. "He decided at some point that he was going to change, and we're all better for it."

The spectacular season didn't go unnoticed. Olles was named Mid-Suburban West co-offensive player of the year. But even more important, he was voted by his teammates as team captain and the team's most valuable player after the season.

"It feels good, doing it with all of your friends, your buddies that you grew up with since you were little," Olles said. "It's going to be a memory forever."

"I'm so proud of all of the (awards) that he's gotten because it is all well-deserved," Donnelly said. "In his own efforts, he willed himself into being a very good quarterback and tremendous leader. It was a fun experience for those kids, and he was at the core of it."

Olles, who wants to study business administration in college, is unsure of where he'll play at the next level.

But one thing is for sure: whoever plays quarterback next season for Palatine should be very careful in choosing their uniform number.

"Now, someone else is going to say that about him," Donnelly said. "I don't want to be number 12, because how could you ever fill Ethan's shoes?"

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