Montini quarterback Alex Wills, with one state championship under his belt and another beckoning, admitted his time as a high school football player has had its ups and downs.
As he and the rest of the Broncos did last year, the goal is to finish on another high note.
"I'm excited for this Saturday," said Wills, a Class 5A honorable mention all-state selection by the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association.
"I can't wait to go up to DeKalb and play Sacred Heart-Griffin, a great program. I think we're going to have our hands full, but I also believe that we're going to come out on top," the 6-foot-2 senior said.
In 2012, as Montini won a fourth straight 5A title, Wills completed 164 of 256 passes for 1,850 yards, 23 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Nice numbers. But at Duffy Field early in the Broncos' first-round matchup against No. 14 seed Bremen, the faithful wanted his head.
Two of Wills' first three passes were intercepted, his first pass going 42 yards the other way for a Bremen touchdown.
After the second pick, on Montini's second series, Wills was lifted and did not return, intense former offensive coordinator Lewis Borsellino fuming. From then on Montini ran a Wildcat formation, or when a pass was desired went with Mark Gorogianis behind center.
In the second round, a 24-22 squeaker over Sycamore, Gorogianis and Wills basically split the Broncos' 33 pass attempts. With 2 touchdown passes to no interceptions, however, Wills regained the quarterback job.
"I think that was a good feeling to get back in the saddle and lead the team to a fourth state championship game," Wills said. "But me being benched, that just goes to show that anything can happen in football. I think the best test of a great football player is how you overcome being benched or having a bad game, having a concussion. How do you overcome that?"
Between that season and this, Montini saw the retirement of Borsellino and the installation of longtime assistant Robert Aurelio as offensive coordinator for Broncos coach Chris Andriano. Wills called Borsellino a "tough, tough coach," a fiery perfectionist, but said Borsellino and Aurelio -- and Andriano, for that matter -- are highly analytical, and supportive.
This year there's been no question No. 6 is playing quarterback unless the brain trust likes a brief, different look with Tyler Tumpane in the Wildcat.
Entering Friday's 5A title game Wills has completed 65 percent of his passes -- just what a coach likes in a spread offense -- for 2,723 yards, 32 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions. He's also the Broncos' third leading rusher with 213 yards and 5 touchdowns, two of which came in last week's 42-20 semifinal win over Sycamore to go along with 3 touchdown passes.
Wills' 4,573 yards passing over two years rank second all-time at Montini, his 369 pass completions and 55 touchdown passes are No. 1.
Seems he found a home after an up-and-down start at Wheaton Warrenville South, from which Wills transferred after his sophomore year.
He credited great football people at WW South where, aside from the formative years playing youth ball with the Wheaton Rams, he established his "foundation" on the football field.
But after being in and out and in of the starting lineup as a freshman and having "never got a shot" as a sophomore, he said, Wills and parents Scott and Karla felt like a change.
A big factor, Alex said, was his mother's Catholic-school background in Chicago, her desire for a greater chance at one-on-one instruction.
"That was the whole part of it, and football was just a great bonus," he said.
"I think the biggest thing being at Wheaton Warrenville South taught me was no matter what the circumstance is, at any time your opportunity could be taken away, and then you have to fight as hard as you can and work as hard on and off the field to keep your spot and win it back," said Wills, who has drawn interest from college programs including Dayton, Butler, Drake, Valparaiso and Grand Valley State.
Alternately a rugged competitor and a calming influence who said he likes to hang out with his offensive linemen who "make everything happen," Wills has handled this opportunity, and the ups and downs, with aplomb.
"I think it's been a great experience," he said. "There have been little bumps in the road for being at the helm of the ship for the Broncos. There have been a few speed bumps here and there, but other than those few instances I think it's been a great experience for me and my parents. And also for the team and the coaches themselves."