Features | Friday Night Drive

York, coming off first playoff appearance in a decade, sees potential as ‘through the roof’

Returning core led by QB Matt Vezza is joined by junior class that went 9-0 as sophomores

York quarterback Matt Vezza looks to pass the ball during a 7 on 7 tournament at St. Charles North High School on Thursday, June 30, 2022.

ST. CHARLES – Charlie Specht recognizes what the measure of success at York has been for a long time, but he’s here with a reminder.

It’s a new day for Dukes’ football.

“I think our standard for a while was getting to that five-win mark and if we did we’re like on top of the world,” said Specht, York’s senior receiver. “I think now that is completely in our rearview mirror. The potential this year is just through the roof.”

York has indeed raised the bar, to say the least. The Dukes’ 2021 season, the fourth under head coach Mike Fitzgerald, was a watershed one in Elmhurst. York started the season 6-0, punctuated by its first win over Glenbard West since 2007, and made the playoffs for the first time since 2011 with the program’s most wins since 2010.

A first-round upset loss to Minooka, though, has fed the Dukes’ hunger for more.

“We went 8-1 in the regular season and I think a lot of people in our community thought that was awesome, but we lost in the first round of the playoffs,” Specht said. “I know we’re not satisfied with having that season all over again. I don’t think we’re going to be satisfied with anything less than a state championship.”

A strong returning core led by quarterback Matt Vezza, Specht, linebacker David Loch and running back Kelly Watson, joined by a junior class that went 9-0 last year as sophomores fuels the sky-high expectations – and energy – around the York program. Fitzgerald said he has 90 kids out for varsity football.

The Dukes showcased a preview of their potential June 30 at the Fox Valley 7-on-7 at St. Charles North. York went 6-0 to win the 7-on-7 title, beating Wheaton Warrenville South 30-2 in the final.

“The offseason was great, and the commitment has completely changed,” Fitzgerald said. “Our kids now understand that if you want to play at a high level that is something you’ve got to make time for and sacrifice. They have bought in. It’s part of the culture. Our leaders have done a great job of bringing in the younger guys. It can’t just be the coaches. They own that responsibility.”

A ringleader of that group is Vezza, who emerged from a quarterback competition early last season to become one of the most dynamic run/pass threats in the area and was the conference’s co-offensive MVP.

Vezza, who holds an offer from Drake, showcased his athletic abilities at the North Central camp, running a 4.48-second 40-yard dash.

“But he’s not just an athlete playing quarterback. He is a quarterback who happens to be a really good athlete,” Fitzgerald said. “He is a special player. He has those intangibles, he’s a great leader, he holds his teammates to a higher standard. He is like having another coach on the field. He is taking it to the next level with his knowledge of the offense. If someone lines up wrong, he fixes it. He knows situations and he helps teach the younger guys.”

Vezza is intent on taking it to the next level with his performance on the field.

“Just trying to stay consistent,” Vezza said. “I’m a great player when I’m playing well, but it’s about staying up at that level consistently, limiting my bad decisions and my bad throws. I’ve got a lot better than last year.”

Specht, who holds an offer from Valparaiso, will be one of Vezza’s top targets once again. The 6-foot-2 senior who runs a 4.6 40 had 20 yards a catch last fall, but said he’s worked to become more of a versatile threat.

“Especially last year I felt like I was almost like a single-faceted player, more of only a deep threat on the team,” Specht said. “I’ve been working on the underneath routes, being able to catch the ball in space and get some yards after the catch so teams can’t just key on me as a deep threat.”

There’s plenty to be excited about at York, which also went undefeated in a 7-on-7 at Northern Illinois University in June.

“It really is a good mix of two talented classes together. This is a special group,” Fitzgerald said. “We have to make the most of this opportunity.”