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Boenzi, Santacaterina join N. Illinois

GENEVA – Frank Boenzi isn’t sure yet when he’ll be eligible to play football at Northern Illinois, but he already has a roommate in mind once he arrives in DeKalb.

That would be Michael Santacaterina, Boenzi’s fellow Geneva senior who recently opted to join NIU as a preferred walk-on.

Consider that Geneva graduate Pat Schiller will be a junior linebacker for the Huskies next year, and it is evident that there are strong ties between NIU football and Geneva, coached by Huskies alum Rob Wicinski.

“That would be cool if we all got to play,” Boenzi said at Geneva’s college signing ceremony on Wednesday afternoon. “Three Geneva people holding it down on the Huskie defense.”

Boenzi, a 305-pound defensive tackle, said he is still working toward gaining approval from the NCAA Clearinghouse to become eligible next year, but regardless, is committed to eventually playing his college football at Northern. Boenzi’s letter of intent was processed by NIU late Wednesday afternoon, allowing him to officially be included among the Huskies’ 2010 recruiting haul.

Boenzi said he is still attempting to make up for a rocky start to his high school academic career.

“I have to see how I do on the ACT the next time I take it. ... how my grades even out at the end of the year, how I do in summer school, and then I should know right before I go down there,” Boenzi said. “It’ll be like a last-minute thing.”

Boenzi was chiefly recruited by Kaneland product P.J. Fleck, who recently left the NIU coaching staff to join Rutgers. Boenzi expressed mixed feelings about Fleck’s departure but said it doesn’t alter his enthusiasm for joining the Huskies.

“I’m happy for him,” Boenzi said. “I see where he’s coming from. He wants to make a name for himself, and he did what he thought was best for his family.”

Santacaterina was a two-way standout at Geneva who is likely to try his hand at linebacker with the Huskies. The Chronicle Football Player of the Year had ample interest from Division II and III programs but has long been locked in on the possibility of playing Division I, even if it meant walking on.

Santacaterina had late interest to walk on at Illinois but sensed his chances to fit in would be better in DeKalb.

“I just felt more genuine interest from NIU, like they wanted me to really be there,” Santacaterina said.

Santacaterina expects to redshirt as a freshman and eventually prove his worth to head coach Jerry Kill and the coaching staff.

“The odds are definitely against you [as a walk-on] ... but I’m going to do whatever I can to see playing time,” Santacaterina said. “That’s my goal.”

Linebacker Bret Shannon (Air Force) and quarterback Brandon Beitzel (Grand Valley State) were the other Geneva football players represented at the ceremony. Shannon is the only one ticketed for a drastically different part of the country.

“It’s not so much the location for me, it’s really just the school and the football was just the right fit for me,” Shannon said. “But Colorado and Colorado Springs is really nice, too, so I’m not complaining.”

Regarding his peace of mind following the decision, Shannon said the last several weeks have “definitely been a sigh of relief for me, not the other way around.”

Beitzel did his share of sighing during a twist-filled recruitment that involved flirtations with some Division I programs. Those options didn’t pan out, but Beitzel said “those things happen for a reason,” and expressed excitement about joining the same Division II juggernaut that former Geneva running back Michael Ratay attends.

“Going to Grand Valley State, even though it’s a Division II, they’re a great  program,” Beitzel said. “They’re more like a Division I school. They’ve got athletes that you’ve never seen, so you just have to be ready in all aspects.”

Samantha Hill (women’s soccer) and Erica Miller (women’s track) are other Geneva athletes who cemented NIU selections. Track athletes Allie Pace (Harvard) and Kelly Shogren (Loyola Marymount) are also college-bound.

At St. Charles East, defensive lineman Jonathan Voytilla (Eastern Illinois) and defensive back Matt Payne (Hillsdale College) were scheduled to formalize their selections Wednesday.

Several other area athletes are still finalizing their plans.

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