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Geneva grad Williams redshirts freshman season, serves as signal caller

Northern Illinois quarterback Matt Williams participates in a drill during practice Saturday at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.
Northern Illinois quarterback Matt Williams participates in a drill during practice Saturday at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.

DeKALB – Former Geneva quarterback Matt Williams is redshirting his freshman season at Northern Illinois, but he’s still spending the season as a signal caller.

NIU relies on Williams to send play calls to starter Jordan Lynch, a role he began with the season opener against Iowa and will continue Jan. 1 when the team travels to Miami to play Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

With Lynch, a junior, and backup Matt McIntosh still likely to be ahead of him on the 2013 depth chart, Williams is welcoming the role. Once he gets the chance to shed his Huskies headset, he’ll embrace that, too.

“It’s just knowing that your opportunity will come, and as soon as your opportunity comes, you have to take advantage of it,” Williams said. “Jordan and Matt are great players, and as soon as they’re done playing, I’m going to try to get my opportunity to get in there.”

Apart from a landmark BCS bowl bid – a Dec. 2 development that shook up several analysts on the heels of the team’s Mid-American Championship game victory – the season largely has developed to Williams’ expectations.

He has traveled with the team and dressed as an extreme emergency quarterback, digesting plenty of game film along the way. The built-in creature comforts have popped up, too. Williams still grins when thinking about his leap from Lake Zurich, the site of his final Geneva game, to Soldier Field, where NIU faced Iowa on Sept. 1.

It’s no slight to Williams, but the 12-1 Huskies are in no hurry to see him handling anything other than a clipboard for awhile. Lynch, who finished seventh in Saturday’s Heisman Trophy voting, emerged as one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks this season, gaining 4,733 yards of total offense with 43 combined touchdowns.

Just as he keeps in touch with his predecessor, Chandler Harnish, Lynch looks forward to charting Williams’ career.

“It’s a hard offense to learn, but as soon as you get the hang of it, it goes pretty good,” Lynch said. “Going out there, he doesn’t look like a freshman. He has a strong arm, makes some good throws, runs hard, so he’s going to do really well in the future.”

Endorsements also come from those who have known Williams beyond this season.

Huskies redshirt sophomore linebacker Michael Santacaterina was a Geneva senior when Williams began his Vikings varsity career as a sophomore in 2009. Before shifting to quarterback, Williams played wide receiver.

In his final two high school seasons, he passed for 3,176 yards, ran for 775 more and scored 44 total touchdowns.

“He was a good kid. Great kid. Still is a good kid,” Santacaterina said. “He’s going to be solid.”

Williams traveled home for dinner during the regular season when time and practice schedules allowed. Regrettably, he was unable to watch any Geneva games, but could see more of his recent stomping grounds in the next few days, as the Huskies will not practice during NIU’s exam week.

Vikings coach Rob Wicinski and St. Charles East coach Mike Fields – a former Geneva assistant – have texted Williams and Santacaterina several times this season. The correspondences figure to grow as the Huskies get closer to departure for South Beach.

Williams hopes there’s just as much buzz when he takes a more active role in the program. For now, 2012 hasn’t been a bad start.

“It’s been a heck of a ride,” Williams said. “The experience here, what we’re getting, is just unbelievable. I couldn’t ask for anything better. Going to the Orange Bowl, you can’t beat that. A BCS bowl, there’s nothing you can do to top that. It’s been a great experience so far.”

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