Oles leaves a legacy of all-around achievement at Palatine
As it turns out, the only thing that was able to stop Zach Oles this season was the turf at Palatine High School.
Oles had led Palatine to 9 wins to open the season this year, and had been producing like a demon on the football field all season. The senior had thrown for 1,886 yards and 19 touchdowns while rushing for 487 yards and another 18 touchdowns entering the first playoff game against Notre Dame.
He had driven the Pirates to a touchdown on the first series of the game and was moving them along on the second series when he took the ball up the middle on a read-option play. In typical Oles' fashion, he tried to crash through the safety after a 12-yard gain.
"I knew I hit the ground really hard," Oles said. "As soon as I tried to get up and moved my shoulder, the pain was really bad. The linemen around me knew and they were all really silent."
It was quieter still as Oles was helped to the sidelines. It would be later determined that he broke his collarbone and his football season would be over.
But it was not just his on-field play that earned Oles his second consecutive captaincy of the Daily Herald's football all-area team. It was also how he handled himself after the injury.
"It was difficult not being on the field," said Oles, who watched the Pirates move to the semifinals for the second year in a row before losing to eventual state champion Maine South. "But it was a new way of watching the game. It was exciting at times and nervous at times."
Nervous or not, Oles adjusted to looking at the game from a different vantage point.
"I was more nervous on the sidelines than I was on the field," Oles said. "But it was fun to watch kids step up."
The biggest of those was Oles' replacement, junior D.J. Angelaccio, who led the Pirates to 3 playoff wins in Oles' absence.
"It was different perspective," Oles said. "Seeing where coverages are from being on the field to being behind the O-line to being on the sidelines. I was learning, but really my goal was to help D.J."
Oles joined Angelaccio on the sidelines, going over what he saw in an effort to help Angelaccio feel more comfortable.
"I spent some time telling him what I saw that they were doing," Oles said. "It is sometimes hard to see. He would come of the field and I would tell him what I saw pre-snap and post-snap. I was just trying to help him."
Palatine coach Rick Splitt said that was just another case of Oles using the leadership and knowledge he had accumulated in his time at Palatine.
"The injury was unfortunate," Split said. "The growth of being a young man into a man the last four weeks watching and being a coach of the sidelines has been unbelievable. That is the character of the kid."
Oles said that the high expectations for him after earning last year's all-area captaincy did not faze him. That despite coming off a season where he led his team to the semifinals while throwing for over 2,000 yards and rushing for over 1,200 yards.
"That didn't change anything," Oles said. "I was just trying to do what I do and keep learning. With every game, I just keep getting more and more comfortable."
It was immunity to pressure that had Splitt feeling good about his decision to make Oles a quarterback in the first place. From the first time Splitt met Oles as an incoming freshman, he knew he could be special.
"We were doing a camp in May," Splitt said. "And he pulls up in a car and jumps out and runs up to me because he wanted a football. He wanted a football to start throwing and get ready for high school. That is the type of kid he is."
Oles said one of his main goals was to limit the number of interceptions he threw. He was very successful with that, going from 11 last season to just 2 this year.
"Going onto the year, I wanted to limit my turnovers," Oles said. "I feel this year, I just became a little smarter with my reads and throws."
Oles wraps up his career as one of the most prolific quarterbacks in Palatine.
He is third all-time in passing yards with 4,080 with 37 touchdowns. He is also fifth as the all-time rusher with 1,775 yards and 34 touchdowns.
"The hard work has paid off," Oles said. "I have to give credit to my teammates."
That hard work will continue in college, where Oles would like to continue to play. He has offers from Butler, Jacksonville and Valparaiso and hopes to make a decision in February.
"The shoulder is feeling a lot better," said Oles, who will receive another honor this Sunday at Soldier Field after being named Chicago Bears high school player of the week for his 6-TD performance in Week 8 against Barrington. "It has been a lot of fun here at Palatine."