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His red hair gives him a look that sets him apart.
And his first name is a bit unique, too.
"I've always been kind of different," Merrick Gentile laughed.
And yet, Gentile is making football fans at Grayslake North do a double take, as if they've seen the likes of him before.
Gentile, the Knights' starting quarterback, plays an awful lot like the quarterback who just vacated the position, AJ Fish.
Fish ended his three-year varsity career at Grayslake North last fall with all kinds of records and prolific statistics, thousands and thousands of yards and dozens upon dozens of touchdowns.
In a wonderful stroke of luck for Grayslake North, Gentile, just a sophomore, seems to be picking up exactly where Fish (3,734 total yards and 46 touchdowns in 2012 alone) left off.
Under Gentile's direction, the Knights are off to a 4-0 start and averaging a Fox Valley Conference Fox Division-best 41 points per game. Along the way, the 6-foot, 200-pound Gentile is using both his arm and his legs, much like Fish did, to exasperate opponents. He's got almost 1,000 total yards already and nearly 20 touchdowns.
"I get a lot of comparisons to AJ," Gentile said. "Obviously, I have some very big shoes to fill. But I wouldn't want to compete against any other person. AJ was a phenomenal quarterback here and being compared to him gets me even more motivated and it makes me want to be the best I can be every day."
But Grayslake North coach Steve Wood is convinced that even personal bests won't be enough for Gentile, whom he calls the most fiery and competitive player he's ever coached. According to Wood, Gentile has an internal fire inside that is raging and constantly pushing for more.
"Knowing Merrick, I'm sure one of his biggest goals is to get people to say, 'AJ, who?' someday," Wood said with a laugh. "It has nothing to do with AJ. Merrick and AJ are actually good friends. It's just that Merrick is always trying to be the best. If AJ did something in his third game, Merrick would want to do it in his second. If AJ has a record, Merrick would want to break it.
"I think Merrick isn't really looking up to AJ, he's looking beyond him."
That might be so from a statistics and wins standpoint, but not on a personal level.
Next to older brother Mike, a 2010 high school graduate who was a quarterback at Grayslake Central when the family lived on that side of the district line, there isn't a contemporary Gentile looks up to more than Fish.
After quarterbacking the sophomore games last fall, Gentile would stay on the field to get a bird's-eye view of the varsity games. He used to zero in on Fish as he called the plays, and stand next to him on the sidelines.
"I would watch AJ in depth," Gentile said. "I would watch all the little things he did and try to let everything sink in. He set a really good example for me. He helped me a lot."
Fish hasn't stopped doing that.
Gentile calls Fish, now a lacrosse player at the University of Virginia, before every single game.
"He's always been there for me, just like my brother," Gentile said of Fish. "AJ is kind of in the role of an older brother now, too. He's always hoping for the best for me, and when we talk, we talk about football, and about me staying confident and about life in general. Before my first game, I was really nervous and it was good to talk to him.
"He's a great friend who always has a lot of good advice for me."
Gentile can turn for advice in all directions.
His father Mike, a former college football player at Carthage, coached both Gentile boys all the way through youth football and knows the game well. And of course, older brother Mike, who now plays baseball at Carthage, can relate perfectly to the ins and outs of being a quarterback.
"My brother was a gun-slinger, he could throw it so hard," Gentile said of Mike. "We played catch a lot. I grew up being a running back so I've always been able to run pretty well. Mike taught me a lot about throwing the ball."
Gentile has always had a good arm. He grew up playing travel baseball and was good enough to make the varsity baseball team at Grayslake North last year as a freshman. He started at third base and was one of the team's best hitters.
He credits his readiness for varsity baseball and football to his brother. The Gentile boys work out together at the gym, take long runs together and even work tough manual labor jobs together. One summer, they worked for a tree-cutting business.
Mostly, though, they test each other's mental toughness with constant opportunities for one-upmanship.
"We're always competing," Gentile said of Mike. "We're always pushing each other to be the best. We'll have push-up contents and just try to out-last each other. Last one to stop wins. We even compete to see who can eat the most at dinner, whatever Mom cooks.
Mom Michaelene is a longtime Spanish teacher at Grayslake Central. The other Gentile sibling, younger sister Mariah, is a cheerleader and softball player at Grayslake North.
"Everyone in my family has been raised to be really competitive," Gentile said. "When I was younger, my dad always had me play up with older kids. Age was never an excuse for me."
It still isn't.
Just 15 years old, Gentile is putting up numbers that any senior quarterback would be proud of.
Of course, AJ Fish did the same thing when he was starting games for Grayslake North as a sophomore.
And we all know how that story ended.
• Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw