A student of the game, Wauconda's Bulgarelli closing out successful career

  • Wauconda senior quarterback Nick Bulgarelli is closing in on the end of a successful high school football career.

    Wauconda senior quarterback Nick Bulgarelli is closing in on the end of a successful high school football career. Daily Herald File photo

Updated 4/14/2021 4:40 PM

He does break occasionally for food.

But during football season, Nick Bulgarelli is usually glued to the TV each weekend.


Watching wall-to-wall coverage of college football and NFL football is his thing.

Bulgarelli is not only a fan of the game, he's a student of it. A serious student. And he's convinced that studying football has made him the player he is.

In two weeks, Bulgarelli, a senior at Wauconda, which is 3-1 on the season, will end his high school career as one of the most prolific and successful quarterbacks in school history.

"I watch a lot of football," Bulgarelli said. "Fall weekends, all day Saturday and Sunday, I'm watching games and I think that's brought me closer to the game. I've gotten really good at picking up on things quickly. I have an eye for detail. I think that's my biggest strength. Every time I watch a college or NFL game, I am always getting new ideas and finding things I can work on."

Bulgarelli is learning from the best.

"I like watching the quarterbacks, guys like Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes. Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield and Dak Prescott," Bulgarelli said. "I like watching the decisions they make. I watch their arm angles, what they do to make plays when there's nothing (open). I watch the defenses and see what they line up in and then I watch to see the decisions the quarterbacks make and where the ball goes, and I think about if that's the play I would make."

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Bulgarelli has made plenty of plays for the Bulldogs over the years.

Already in this shortened season, Bulgarelli has passed for nearly 800 yards in four games. A three-year starter, he was averaging about 1,500 passing yards per season in his previous two seasons.

Equally impressive, in three varsity seasons, Bulgarelli has never finished with lower than a 52 percent completion rate. And this season, he has hovered between 75 and 80 percent.

"Anytime your quarterback is completing at least 7 of 10 passes, there's a nice comfort that comes with that," Wauconda coach Dave Mills said. "Nick does a lot of good things for us. We trust him to make decisions, and to change the play if he thinks he needs to. He has that freedom. He just knows the game so well."

Bulgarelli also appreciates others who know the game well. He's got his favorite television analysts, too. And he listens to them with great care.


"I love watching the afternoon NFL games with (former Dallas Cowboys quarterback) Tony Romo," Bulgarelli said. "He is really knowledgeable. He points out a lot of things that I might not even notice and I really like that. I like learning about another side of the game.

"I'm also really excited about (former New Orleans Saints quarterback) Drew Brees becoming an announcer. I think he will be outstanding."

By the time Bulgarelli watches Brees next fall, he will likely be out of football. For good.

Bulgarelli has some Division III offers, but it has been his dream to play Division I football, and if not that, to go as a student to a big university with a big-time football team.

Prior to COVID-19, Bulgarelli had gone on some Division I visits, including Northern Illinois, Illinois State and North Dakota State.

But he says he needed a full season in the fall to seal the deal.

"I had a little bit of a turnover problem my junior year and I think some schools were a little worried about that," Bulgarelli said. "But I really worked on that during the offseason, I corrected it, and it's not a problem anymore.

"But we didn't have a season in the fall to show that. We were like the only state around here not playing and I think a lot of college coaches just moved on (from players in Illinois). I think they were like, 'What's the point?' I don't know exactly what happened. Maybe it was the turnovers, maybe it was my size (6-foot-2, 170 pounds), maybe it was that we weren't playing in the fall. I'm not really sure. All I know is that for some reason, that (Division I) interest I had last year, just kind of faded away."

So Bulgarelli's dreams of playing Division I football faded, too.

He made the decision to stick to his original plan. If he couldn't play Division I football, he still wanted to go to a big, Division I school to experience that environment and to cheer on a big-time college football team.

Bulgarelli, who boasts a 4.3 grade-point average, applied to 14 big universities. He would never close the door if a Division I playing opportunity surfaced somehow, but for now, he's on this path. He's narrowed his choices down to Clemson and Indiana, both fun athletic schools and both known for their business schools, which is what he wants to study.

Bulgarelli is excited about his future, but a little sad at the same time. His athletic career as he's known it for most of his life will be over soon.

"That hasn't really set in yet," said Bulgarelli, who was also a four-year varsity basketball player and recently ended that part of his athletic career.

"It will definitely be tough to move on from football and all athletics, honestly. It's been a big part of my life for 18 years."

Bulgarelli doesn't expect his studying of the game to end though. He likes watching football with a discerning eye.

"I never want to go back to watching football like I did in sixth grade when I had no clue about what was going on and all I cared about was that the ball went into the end zone," Bulgarelli said with a laugh. "The amount of football I watch might slow up a bit, but I don't see myself forgetting how much I like watching it, and watching it closely. I'm still going to want to learn about the game.

"Maybe I'll be a coach someday, or at least be a dad coach. I'm definitely going to be around the game in some way the rest of my life."

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