Bartlett senior quarterback AJ Bilyeu is the honorary co-captain of the Daily Herald's Fox Valley all-area football team. He will play at Air Force next year.
Rick West | Staff Photographer
Bartlett senior quarterback AJ Bilyeu is the honorary co-captain of the Daily Herald's Fox Valley all-area football team.
Daily Herald File Photo
To 17-year-old Bartlett senior AJ Bilyeu, the parallels between his recently completed role as high school quarterback and his future occupation as a doctor are many.
"There's a respect that comes with both," said Bilyeu, who plans to major in biology at the Air Force Academy before picking a medical school. "When you're a physician, people see that lab coat and they immediately know the hard work you've gone through to get to that position. People respect you and they count on you to call the shots."
Bilyeu's father, Rodney, was a high school quarterback in downstate New Berlin. His mother, Ida, has been a nurse in the burn unit at Cook County Hospital for a decade. She arranged for AJ to follow a staff doctor on his rounds, an experience he said sealed his decision to study medicine.
The intense focus it takes to complete medical school should be right up the alley of someone like Bilyeu, one of the finest students of the game the Bartlett football program has produced to date.
Bilyeu played quarterback at Tefft Middle School but he wasn't identified as a quarterback at the high school level until midway through his freshman season. At that point he was taken under the wing of Bartlett quarterbacks coach Eric Ilich, who had already molded Josh Hasenberg into a collegiate prospect recruited by Colgate.
Bilyeu, who owns a grade-point average of 3.7, was a quick study. The transition from wide receiver to quarterback went smoothly as a freshman because he had already observed and memorized the roles of every player in the backfield. "It was just a matter of tackling the same beast from a different angle," he said of the position switch.
Bilyeu's accelerated learning curve never slowed.
"He's extremely intelligent, always trying to figure out the when, where and why, not just the how," said Ilich, who played quarterback at Neuqua Valley. "His best attributes are that he's smart, he's got a strong arm, he's athletic and he has great footwork. Those things carried him a long way."
In fact, Those attributes carried Bilyeu to one of the finest seasons in Bartlett history. In his third year as the program's starting varsity quarterback, Bilyeu led the Hawks to their second straight Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division title by completing 115 of 201 attempts (57.2 percent) for area highs of 1,871 yards and 23 touchdowns. He was intercepted 10 times.
Bilyeu also has excellent speed, which he demonstrated last spring as a member of Bartlett's track relay teams. He rushed 54 times for 200 yards and 2 touchdowns.
For his excellent senior season, Bartlett's AJ Bilyeu has been named an honorary co-captain of the 2011 Daily Herald Fox Valley all-area team. He shares the award with Brad Walovitch of Crystal Lake South.
Bilyeu's rushing numbers could have been much higher had the Hawks chosen to employ the option scheme they practiced but rarely used.
"We had the option in if we ever wanted to pull it out, but we wanted to save him," Bartlett coach Tom Meaney said. "We didn't want to use it until the playoffs. We didn't want to risk him getting hurt."
"Yeah, we kept that mostly a secret," the quarterback said. "We showed it a couple of times on third-down plays against Neuqua Valley, but we didn't run the option to its full potential."
Expect that to change for Bilyeu next year when he matriculates at the Air Force Academy in Fort Collins, Colo. He has already been told the program expects him to join the 1,000-1,000 club, the rushing and passing thresholds exceeded by previous Falcons quarterbacks.
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun has begun to incorporate aspects of the spread offense into the traditional option offense run by the academy for years, so Bilyeu's ability to roll out of the pocket and fire a football 65-70 yards in the air won't go untapped.
"Coach (Calhoun) is excited about my arm strength and my ability to pass for more yards than they have in the past," Bilyeu said.
Expect the player voted team MVP by his peers and Offensive Player of the Year in the Upstate Eight Conference's Valley Division by league coaches to adapt to the nuances of the Air Force offense as quickly as he learned Bartlett schemes.
"He just absorbs everything," Meaney said. "And we had more offense in this year than we ever have before. He had to know a lot of different formations, audibles, play calls. He really is like a sponge. Eric really did a great job with him."
"He's a processor," Ilich said of his pupil. "He's really smart, but at the same time he's processing everything you're saying and making sense of it and figuring out the ins and outs of whatever you're telling him. Sometimes you could see the gears moving in his brain and you'd have to say, 'Hey, slow down a little bit. It's just Cover 3, not a big deal.'"
Over the course of three years, Bilyeu met with Ilich during free periods, gym, whenever they found time. Sometimes the young coach would give his signal caller a pop quiz on quarterback responsibilities. Sometimes he'd assign Bilyeu video of himself to critique. Sometimes they would simply chalk talk game situations or discuss philosophy.
"It's hard to explain how much he's influenced the things I've done and achieved," Bilyeu said of Ilich. "On and off the field he's really helped shape who I am with advice, lessons, not letting me get a big head. He never let me think I'm better than the rest of the team and he never let me be satisfied."
Because he was never satisfied on the field, Bilyeu graduates as Bartlett's record holder for completions (315), attempts (531), passing yards (4,275) and touchdown passes (47). He also rushed for 13 touchdowns in three seasons.
After medical school Bilyeu will serve his mandatory five-year commitment to the Air Force, most likely as a paid doctor on a base. Due to his military commitment he won't have the burden of hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans to repay.
Then it's on to a long career in anesthesiology or perhaps obstetrics. Regardless of the medical discipline he eventually chooses, expect AJ (short for Adam James) to rely on the lessons he learned as a quarterback when making the tough calls a doctor is confronted with daily.
"Being a physician is synonymous with being a quarterback because you're in command," Bilyeu said. "A leadership role comes with it. I think that's why I was drawn to it."