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Preview on Huskies’ matchup against Army Saturday — beaconnewsonline.com

Updated: November 4, 2011 5:40PM



DEKALB — Colors for the Northern Illinois football team are red and black, but the 2011 season’s first depth chart released by new coach Dave Doeren definitely had a Geneva blue tint to it.

Fifth-year senior middle linebacker Pat Schiller is one of three starters listed on defense who has started before, but the former Viking is joined by two fellow Geneva products in redshirt freshmen Frank Boenzi and Michael Santacaterina, who are listed at No. 2 at noseguard and “will” linebacker, respectively.

Boenzi, a recruited walk-on last year who would have received scholarship offers from Big Ten schools if there hadn’t been questions about his academic status, was expected to be in the defensive line rotation entering preseason camp. It was a surprise that Santacaterina, a preferred walk-on last season, jumped up this high in the team’s linebacker picture.

“It just proves the point that you get what you deserve,” said NIU linebackers coach Tom Matukewicz, the lone holdover from the Jerry Kill era on Doeren’s first staff. “We got banged up a little bit (at linebacker) so (Santacaterina) he had the opportunity to rep and he took that opportunity and showed that he can play.

“Now, all of a sudden, he’s a starter on two special teams (kickoff and punt) and he’s repping in the two-deeps. That’s what happens when you take care of your opportunities.”

Devon Butler, who was last year’s starter at middle linebacker, was the tragic victim of an off-campus shooting this past spring in an incident where he was reportedly not the intended target. He has recovered to the point where he has started limited workouts but will take a medical redshirt this season and hopes to be ready for next season.

Santacaterina, for the time being, has moved ahead of fellow second-year players Cameron Stingily (Romeoville) and Mike Hellams (Bolingbrook), who are no longer listed on the two-deep. Both saw action last season as true freshmen with Stingily playing in five games before suffering an Achilles tendon injury in what is termed a “non-football accident” in the media guide. It ended his season. Hellams played in nine games.

Mutekewicz said the coaching staff is pleased with what the linebackers have done in preseason.

“They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do,” he said. “In the past, we’ve played up to nine guys (in the LB rotation). We may not play that many, maybe more like six or seven, but still, there’s some depth in there. And the ones we have, have taken advantage of their opportunities.”

Schiller started all 13 games at middle linebacker in 2009 but backed up Butler last season after returning for the fifth game of the season after recovering from ACL knee surgery for an injury suffered in spring drills. It’s a nice luxury to have him available to step up with Butler out.

“It’s probably been the biggest difference, in terms of the confidence that we have on defense and at linebacker,” said Matukewicz. “As he goes, we go. If he’s slow with calls and he’s unsure about himself, then the whole defense is unsure. It’s great to see him have success and take command of a leadership role there also.”

Two other redshirt freshmen with area ties have made their way onto the two-deep, too. Ryan Brown of Elburn (St. Charles North) is listed behind starter Keith Otis at right tackle, while Marckie Hayes of Sycamore is listed as one of two potential backups to Rashaan Melvin at cornerback.

The Huskies have eight returning starters listed on offense, including the entire five-man offensive line from last year’s 11-3 team, as they prepare for Saturday’s 6 p.m. home and season opener against Army.



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