Suburban Life Player of the Year: York senior quarterback Matt Vezza guided program to historic season

York's Matt Vezza (9) runs the ball during the boys varsity football game between York and Lyons Township on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022 in Western Springs.

Matt Vezza loves challenges.

Bigger challenges, in particular, motivate Vezza.

The York senior quarterback relied on a tireless work ethic to become one of the most iconic players in York’s 100-plus year program history.

But there was a time when Vezza’s ability to make an impact on the varsity level came into question and it had nothing to do with his skills under center.

Almost four years ago, York coach Mike Fitzgerald was embarking on a complete structural and culture overhaul of the program. Fitzgerald said he would conduct a once-a-week camp in the spring for younger players in the field house.

Fitzgerald quickly noticed Vezza’s athletic talents and high IQ, but there was one major drawback.

Watching Matt run our concepts when he was in eighth grade, you could tell he was a smart kid,” Fitzgerald said. “He was very competitive and coachable. But he was also very tiny. He was super small. He could still throw the ball at his size, which was pretty remarkable.

“Still, it was pretty remarkable watching Matt pick things up. He was doing high school stuff, like progressions and our reads. It was pretty cool to see. We knew Matt had an older brother who was big for his age. I knew Matt would eventually grow.”

York's Matt Vezza (9) fades back to pass during the boys varsity football game between York and Glenbard West on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022 in Elmhurst, IL.

York senior wide receiver Charlie Specht joked his teammates questioned whether Vezza could see them downfield on pass patterns when he was younger.

“Matt’s been my quarterback since second grade,” Specht said. “We grew up playing together, but Matt was probably the smallest kid on the team until his sophomore year. … We used to joke that he would just have to guess where the receivers were when he threw it because he couldn’t see over the offensive line. He was really that tiny.”

Vezza said he was worried about his height and weight, even though his older brother Ryan was naturally a bigger athlete. Matt Vezza said he was 5-foot-6 and 130 pounds in his freshman year. Ryan Vezza, a sophomore tight end at Albion College, is 6-2, 220 pounds.

“[Ryan] was always bigger than me at the stages,” Vezza said. “I was very tiny. I was hoping I would grow. I needed that growth spurt. I had everything else I needed. My freshman year I was undersized going up against kids a lot bigger. It made me compete. I’ve had to fight for everything I’ve gotten. I’ve always been a grinder and work really hard and am very competitive. When the growth spurt finally happened, it all came together for me.”

It certainly did – in historic fashion.

Vezza wrapped up a prolific two-year run leading the Dukes, guiding the program to 12 consecutive wins before losing to Loyola in a Class 8A semifinal. The 6-foot, 185-pound Vezza, the 2022 Suburban Life Football Player of the Year, completed 152 of 242 passes for 2,028 yards, 21 touchdowns and five interceptions.

York’s Matt Vezza keeps the ball for a touchdown run against Palatine in a Class 8A quarterfinal playoff football game in Elmhurst on Saturday, November 12, 2022.

Vezza was a multi-dimensional threat, also running 115 times for 637 yards and six touchdowns to earn the West Suburban Silver Conference Player of the Year.

Vezza called it a magical run to an improbable career, both personally and individually.

“It’s been amazing, definitely from where we started as freshmen when we were 5-4 as a team,” he said. “This senior class was special to get to the point we did. We stuck together as a group, pushed each other and we wanted to win a state championship. We came up short, but we did some incredible things.”

Two years ago, Vezza had to battle for the starting spot, winning the job by engineering a comeback victory at Downers Grove North in the fourth game of his junior season.

Since then, Vezza helped spark a remarkable turnaround, joining forces with a solid offense and a stout defense to lead the Dukes to an unprecedented run in program history that uplifted the Elmhurst community. Vezza said he experienced so many memorable moments on the field, from beating Glenbard West and a memorable comeback against Oak Park-River Forest in his junior season to knocking off Marist in the playoffs this fall.

Now after a storied career with prodigious victories and statistics, Vezza is back in a familiar position: counted out. Vezza has just one Division I offer from Drake to go with a mixture of Division II and III offers. He possesses the intangibles to be a next-level standout, from passing and running skills to a 4.6 grade-point average along with leadership traits.

“I’m very motivated to become the best player and person I can be,” Vezza said. “I know it’s going to be hard, but I’m going to work hard day in and day out. If you have big goals, it’s going to be frustrating at times.”