CEDAR FALLS — Luke Gillett’s first taste of varsity football was barely enough to whet the appetite.
After completing just three full games at the start of his junior season, the Cedar Falls quarterback has feasted on opposition through the first four games of his senior campaign.
Gillett has passed for 777 yards with completions on 63 percent of his throws and 10 touchdowns with no interceptions. His surgically repaired knee has added 207 rushing yards and two scores as Class 4A’s No. 6 Cedar Falls (3-1) has surpassed 30 points each week against a collection of teams that own a combined 11-1 record in games not involving the Tigers.
Toughness is just one trait that complements Gillett’s physical gifts. When he suffered an injury to his kneecap at the end of his sophomore basketball season, Gillett was told the recovery time from immediate surgery would cost him his entire junior football campaign.
Once he was advised damage to his knee wouldn’t get any worse, Gillett postponed the operation — allowing him to get his first varsity starts at the quarterback position.
“I didn’t want to miss my junior season,” Gillett said. “I wanted to get some varsity experience under my belt.
“Going into it, I knew there was a small chance I would make it through the entire season. I felt that if I could just get in there for a couple games, get a couple wins for my team, that they’d be able to handle it with things off to a good start.”
After Gillett’s knee was twisted on the second series against Western Dubuque, it was decided at that point surgery would be the best option. Gillett underwent medial patella-femoral ligament (MPFL) reconstruction and spent two days each week for the next six months in physical therapy, working toward a return that allowed him to finish out last spring’s track season.
“It just says a lot about him and his character,” Cedar Falls coach Brad Remmert said. “It’s not easy coming back from any injury, especially one where it’s six months of rehabilitation. He stayed the course, did a great job of rehabbing. I think a lot of kids saw the work he was putting in to get himself ready and that motivated them to work harder.”
Physical talent has always been part of Gillett’s profile. Remmert praised his athleticism as the main factor that allowed him to win the starting role at the quarterback position entering his junior season. His speed and agility is paired with a strong arm that can the complete deep balls, outs and corner routes, complemented by the touch to hit targets underneath.
It’s Gillett’s mental growth, however, that has allowed this year’s Cedar Falls offense to maximize its talented personnel.
Post-snap, Gillett quickly checks off his targets with big-play weapon Blake Chirstensen joining Logan Wolf, Dalton Closson, Jackson Frericks and Jakob Courbat with at least five receptions. Racing to the edge, he also makes the split-second choice on whether to keep or pitch the football to standout running back Sam Gary on option rushes that have become more effective.
Perhaps most impressive is what occurs pre-snap. Gillett walks to the line of scrimmage with the entire playbook at his disposal.
“We probably have given Luke more freedom to change up plays than we have with many of our quarterbacks in the past,” Cedar Falls coach Brad Remmert said. “He’s able to get us out of bad plays.”
Gillett credits feedback from his receivers as part of what allows the audibles to be so successful.
“Last year I could only check a few plays,” Gillett said. “This year I think it’s a huge component to be able to call a play from the line of scrimmage.
“You never really think about how much control you can put in somebody until you give them the full playbook at the line of scrimmage. I’m able to walk up there, and depending on what I see, change to whatever play I want.”
Character and poise are traits Gillett says he’s learned from one of his earliest role-models — grandfather Arvil Stille, a former Drake football star and World War II veteran. Gillett has applied the lessons learned from Stille, who passed away in 2011, to football and his everyday life.
“I can remember playing games with him and if I didn’t win, I’d throw a fit,” Gillett recalls. “He’s always be like, ‘You can’t be a sore loser.’ He kind of kept my head on straight. It was all about character. ... Just treat people with respect and always give 100 percent.”
At a recruiting disadvantage after missing the majority of his junior season, Gillett is starting to pick up some buzz from college programs. He recently went on a visit to Winona State and Remmert feels he’ll have plenty of options by season’s end.
“Somebody is going to end up with a pretty good football player,” Remmert said. “I think he can play at a very high level. As he continues to make the throws he’s shown he can make on a consistent basis, I think the looks are going to get only better.”