Weather Updates

Geneva’s Schiller the man in the middle for NIU

donnell collins/For BeacNews NIU linebacker PSchiller former GenevHigh School star.

donnell collins/For the Beacon News NIU linebacker Pat Schiller and former Geneva High School star.

storyidforme: 16450330
tmspicid: 5900545
fileheaderid: 2776843

NIU football schedule

Sept. 3) vs. Army, 6 p.m.

Sept. 10) at Kansas, 6 p.m.

Sept. 17) vs. Wisconsin at Soldier Field, 2:30 p.m.

Sept. 24) vs. Cal Poly, 2:30 p.m.

Oct. 1) at Central Michigan* , 2:30 p.m.

Oct. 8) vs. Kent State*, 2:30 p.m.

Oct. 15) vs. Western Michigan*, 2:30 p.m.

Oct. 22) at Buffalo*, 11 a.m.

Nov. 1) at Toledo*, 6 p.m.

Nov. 8) at Bowling Green*, 7 p.m.

Nov. 15) vs. Ball State*, 7 p.m.

Nov. 25) vs. Eastern Michigan*, TBA

*–Mid-American Conference game

Updated: November 16, 2011 1:48AM

DEKALB — Stuck in the middle again?

Hardly, but that may be Pat Schiller’s favorite spot on the football field. And five days into preseason camp at Northern Illinois University, that’s where the 6-foot-2, 235-pound fifth-year senior linebacker finds himself.

“I felt comfortable on the outside, too,” said the former Geneva High School standout, who has played in both spots during his collegiate career.

He was speaking Tuesday at the team’s media/photo day. The Huskies didn’t practice after opening with five straight days but will have two sessions today.

“It’s not like I feel any more comfortable (in the middle), but it puts me more in the leadership role, more, I’d guess you’d say, the captain of the defense because I’m calling the shots, making signal calls and checks (at the line of scrimmage),” Schiller continued.

After redshirting as a freshman in 2007, Schiller played in all 13 games in ’08 as a backup, then started all 13 in ’09 at middle linebacker and ranked third on the team in tackles (82). He suffered a knee injury the following spring (torn ACL) that required surgery and didn’t return until four games into last season, when he backed up starter Devon Butler.

This past spring, he moved back outside, until last week when camp started.

“He’s really at home,” said new head coach Dave Doeren, whose focus in a 16-year career as a defensive assistant has primarily been with linebackers.

“Pat is doing some nice things, leadership-wise. We lost our returning starter in Devon Butler to injury, but at the same time, we return a guy (in Schiller) who started there for a whole season so that helps.”

The Geneva connection

Schiller is one of three players on the Huskies roster who played for former NIU linebacker (1983) Rob Wicinski at Geneva. Defensive tackle Frank Boenzi and fellow linebacker Michael Santacaterina, both redshirt freshmen, look like they’ll be in the mix when NIU opens its season at home Sept. 3 against Army.

The 6-3 Boenzi has dropped to 310 pounds and is listed as the backup at noseguard to junior starter Nabal Jefferson. That’s not a surprise.

“(Redshirt sophomore) Anthony Wells, Jefferson and Boenzi have been rotating at defensive tackle and making a lot of plays,” said Doeren, adding that redshirt senior Ron Newcomb, who missed spring drills rehabbing an injury, would be eased into the mix.

Expect all of them to see plenty of playing time, since Doeren holds the same philosophy as the Jerry Kill regime that preceded him.

“The best defensive lines I’ve coached are the ones that have depth,” said the former Wisconsin defensive coordinator. “We’ll continue to roll those guys out there and we’ll do that at defensive end, too. That’s our goal. We’ll play 10 guys on game day if they’re capable of playing.”

Look at him now

The 6-foot, 215-pound Santacaterina has elbowed his way onto the depth chart as a contender for a backup slot at outside linebacker. That, is a bit of a surprise.

“He’s doing a really nice job of jumping in and getting reps and taking advantage of it,” said Doeren.

For his part, Santacaterina said he’s trying to get better every day and has one major goal this year.

“I just want to get on the field,” said the former high school safety who has added 10 pounds. “Even if it’s just special teams. I’m working on kickoff (coverage) right now. I really want to do that this year. I was on that team in high school and I really love running down the field.

“They moved me to linebacker at (preseason) camp last year and I’m just working hard trying to get better every day, trying to learn the defense and master my craft at linebacker.”

Making his mark?

“It’s early, but he’s been one of the surprises in camp,” Schiller said of Santacaterina. “He’s been phenomenal. Now, he’s made the two-deep. He’s stepped up when the opportunity was handed to him. He’s playing good football.”

Having familiar faces around him has helped said Santacaterina.

“(Schiller) has been a mentor. He’s like a big brother and he’s a great leader in the film room,” said the youngster.

The veteran smiled upon hearing that.

“Sometimes, though, I feel like a grandpa,” said Schiller. “But we can relate and look back at how coach Wicinski did things and how (Santacaterina) has grown as a player since high school. It’s cool having the guys from Geneva coming in.”

There’s another on the way with the recent commitment of current Geneva senior quarterback Frank Williams.

More local ties

Two other redshirt freshmen with area connections are in camp for the second year as redshirts: St. Charles North offensive lineman Ryan Brown (Elburn) and Marmion fullback Bobby Winkel (Batavia).

Brown, who is 6-7 and 280, is listed as the No. 2 left tackle behind redshirt senior Trevor Olson (6-6, 300), who is likely the Huskies’ next best pro prospect.

“I was pretty light and came in at 245 but I want to add about 25 more (pounds) before I’m done here,” said Brown, whose older brother Patrick was a four-year starter at Central Florida and is battling for a starting job in his third year with the Minnesota Vikings.

“Trevor has helped me a lot, given me a lot of tips, and my brother has helped, too,” said Brown. “I just want to be ready to go in if needed and keep putting on some more weight.”

Winkel, who at 6-2, 217, is admittedly “a little small for fullback.”

He was the work team player of the week last season for the Minnesota game but hasn’t made the depth chart yet. He figures he’ll have to start making his mark on special teams.

“So far I’m getting some time with kick return and PAT,” he said. “It was real tough not being able to play in games last year but it takes time to get used to the speed and strength of the college game. As the year went on, I learned my role. It just takes time to get on the field.”

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.