Like eating your broccoli, sometimes doing something you don’t want to do can be good for you.
Playing quarterback certainly has been good for A.J. Fish. It’s been good for Grayslake North, too.
The fact that Fish has rolled up more than 3,000 passing yards in the last two years proves that.
But hit rewind and send Fish, now a senior, back to his freshman year, and he was not thrilled about playing quarterback. He grew up playing wide receiver in youth football and loved it.
Fish was sure he’d make a great wide receiver in high school, and he had envisioned nothing else.
“Freshman year, my coach came up to me and said, ‘You’re playing quarterback,’” Fish said. “And I said, ‘I really want to play wide receiver.’
“I had never played quarterback before. I didn’t want to play quarterback.”
But the topic wasn’t up for discussion, and Fish dutifully started taking the first snaps of his career.
Turns out, Fish was like a fish in water behind center.
“I ended up loving quarterback,” Fish said. “I loved having the ball in my hands. I began working really hard at quarterback, spending a lot of time on technique and trying to get better.
“For me, the best part of high school football has been being a quarterback.”
Fish will certainly go down as one of the best.
He already owns too many Grayslake North passing records to count. He’s also had more passing yards than any other quarterback in Lake County the last two years. And most important to him, he’s been the leader of a team that has changed Grayslake North’s program forever.
Under Fish, the Knights qualified for their first playoff berth in school history last week. Grayslake North got a signature win against perennial power Crystal Lake Central to move to 6-1 on the season. With wins in their next two games, including tonight’s crosstown rivalry tilt against Grayslake Central, the Knights could put the cherry on top and earn the right to host a playoff game.
“It’s been great for us to achieve our goal of getting to the playoffs,” Fish said. “But we’re trying not to make too big of a deal of it because we don’t want to just make the playoffs. We want to do a lot more than that.”
Likewise, Fish does much more than pass the ball.
He is a passing quarterback who could double as a running back if necessary. Fish has worked exhaustively on his speed and footwork in recent years in order to make himself more versatile.
This season, he has rushed for more than 1,200 yards. Along with his passing yards, Fish is responsible for nearly 3,000 yards of offense so far.
“Everyone knows that A.J. can throw the ball, but he actually really likes running it and he makes such good reads,” said Grayslake North coach Steve Wood, who started the program seven years ago. “He also has such good footwork.
“When you watch him run and see all those spin moves he uses, he almost looks like he’s back on the lacrosse field.”
As good as Fish is at football, his best sport might be lacrosse, which could be explained by his genetic makeup.
Fish’s father Brad played lacrosse for four years in college at Rutgers. Like father like son, Fish earned a scholarship for lacrosse. He made a verbal commitment to Virginia last fall during his junior year.
Ironically, his lacrosse career got off to a familiar start.
“I first started playing lacrosse in sixth or seventh grade. My dad suggested I try it,” Fish said. “At first, I hated it, because I was in love with baseball (and the two seasons were at the same time).
“But once I started playing more, I really liked lacrosse and I stopped playing baseball.”
Fish has played on an elite travel lacrosse team called Team One, which is composed of players mostly from the North Shore. While playing in some national tournaments on the East Coast, Fish got noticed. Virginia offered a scholarship almost immediately and Fish accepted.
Not only did he love the school and its rich lacrosse tradition that includes a national title two years ago, Fish was also glad to have the pressure of college recruiting off the table. That gave him the chance to focus on football, and basketball.
Yep, Fish plays basketball, too. In fact, he’s a standout. He’s played varsity since his freshman year and was an all-conference selection the last two seasons.
“I think being a three-sport athlete has made A.J. the athlete he is,” Wood said. “It’s helped him in football with his footwork and his speed and so many other skills.”
The downside is that Fish has spent so much time playing all three sports that he hasn’t had enough time to showcase himself to football recruiters. And, as much as he loves lacrosse, Fish would love to play football in college even more.
He has had no Division I football offers yet.
“Other (high school) coaches in the area who ask about A.J. are shocked when I tell them he really has no offers,” Wood said. “But I think he could get something. I just think football coaches are afraid that they won’t be able to get him to commit to football since he already has a scholarship in lacrosse. I don’t think that would be a problem.”
Fish won’t officially sign with Virginia until the signing date in late November. Until then, he’s keeping his options open.
“I love every sport I play, and it’s almost like it’s whatever season I’m in, that’s what sport I love the best,” Fish said. “Playing lacrosse in college would be great, but I’m definitely open to playing football. I can’t even imagine not playing football anymore after this season. I just love it too much.”
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