Connor Wilkie and his father, Rich, served themselves dinner. Connor has gone from ball boy to star senior quarterback under the watch of Rich, the only coach Andover has ever had. (Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune photo)
Football dominated the senses earlier this week at the Wilkie household in Andover.
Coach Rich Wilkie, who 12 years ago built the Huskies program from scratch, watched “Monday Night Countdown” in the living room. His quarterback and son, Connor, arrived home after spending time coaching and playing with a local Special Olympics football team.
They assembled their dinner of French dip sandwiches in the kitchen where their unique football bond began many years ago over breakfast.
Rich would wake up about 5 a.m., hoping to leave for August two-a-day practices before 6-year-old Connor would rise and plead to come along. No chance.
“I’d hear the cereal bowl in the kitchen,” Rich said.
As their relationship grew through football, so too did Connor. From a wide-eyed ball boy ever-present on the sidelines to, this season, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound senior quarterback who ranks as one of the state’s best.
Wilkie, whose precise and powerful left arm has produced 1,180 yards and 13 touchdowns in four games, leads unbeaten Andover (4-0) into Friday’s Northwest Suburban Conference showdown at Osseo (3-1).
“You’re not going to stop him,” said Osseo coach Derrin Lamker, a family friend and former quarterback himself. “You hope to contain him and take away some big plays.”
Funny to think Wilkie once balked at playing quarterback. Rich recalled his son telling him, “I don’t know if I want the pressure of the position.”
As an eighth-grader, Wilkie quarterbacked his youth team to the North Metro championship against the other Andover team, a game that created high expectations as the two squads joined together and matured into high school players in the Andover class of 2014.
Once deterred by pressure, Wilkie now welcomes it.
“If we went 6-3 this season, our team would be pretty bummed,” Wilkie said.
He hopes to create special memories, like the September night in 2006 when older brother Scott gave him a piggyback ride after Andover’s first-ever victory against traditional power Blaine. Or the October night in 2007 when he watched his favorite of all Andover quarterbacks — Wes Satzinger — rally the Huskies to an overtime comeback victory against Maple Grove.
As a ball boy catching point-after attempts or keeping game balls dry on rainy nights, Wilkie witnessed Andover’s entire football history from the sidelines.
“The first time I was ever in the stands for an Andover game was ninth grade,” Wilkie said. “It was uncomfortable.”
He wasn’t there long. Wilkie got the starting job three games into his sophomore season. He wanted to wear Satzinger’s No. 12 but got No. 11 because each Andover quarterback must wear a different number to signal a new era. The team earned a victory in his debut, but it was the lone bright spot in a 1-8 season.
Andover improved to 5-5 last fall and reached the Class 5A, Section 4 semifinals. Wilkie finished with 2,090 yards and 24 touchdown passes and drew raves for his college potential.
No offers have arrived, Rich said, though several regional FCS coaches have come to see Wilkie play. Drilling Connor at home on how to call plays and then make adjustments based on what the defense is showing has made “his football IQ higher than any quarterback I’ve had,” Rich said.
The younger Wilkie is worried less about winning over suitors than winning games because his years at Andover are down to months.
His mother, Beth, is already dreading next fall when for the first time since 2002 she will not have a son in the program.
“I don’t know what it’s like not to get a hug from one of my boys at the end of the game,” said Beth, who also cheered on Scott (class of 2007) and Mike (2010).
Friday’s game at Osseo is something of a family affair. Rich considers Lamker an honorary uncle to Connor. Their relationship resulted in an awkward moment last season as Wilkie fumbled out of bounds near the Osseo sideline.
“Coach Lamker told me, ‘Don’t one-hand it when you’re getting pulled down,’ ” Wilkie said. “The Osseo players were looking at him like, ‘Coach, what are you doing?’ ”
Lamker admitted: “When we don’t play them I want them to win and I want Connor to do really well.”