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Druley: Tri-Cities a home away from home for Huskies players

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012 5:31 a.m. CST

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Northern Illinois linebacker Michael Santacaterina concluded a recent interview much like he did many of his media chats at Geneva.

He grinned and said he loved his mama and was happy to be here.

At this point, the redshirt sophomore linebacker isn’t the only Orange Bowl-bound Huskie with an affinity for Mary Ellen Santacaterina. Given the family’s holiday hospitality to many of Michael’s teammates from out of town, Geneva’s on-again, off-again refrain after football games could be getting a new spin.

Until then, here’s something courtesy of “Santa” that could fly on a Huskies banner above the family home: “If people need a place right here in Geneva, stop by for a night or two.”

The Santacaterinas aren’t expecting to live up to their nickname and host any gift exchanges today. Off since Thursday afternoon, NIU players are set to reconvene for a team meal tonight before flying Wednesday morning to Miami for the Jan. 1 Orange Bowl.

On Thanksgiving, a handful of Huskies shared a feast with the Santacaterinas in Geneva, while a few others joined the Striedl family in St. Charles. Jess Striedl, a St. Charles East graduate, is a reserve fullback for the Huskies.

From what he’s heard from linebackers Tyrone Clark – a resident of Mehlville, Mo. – and Miami native Victor Jacquez, Striedl would have repeat guests next November if Clark and Jacques weren’t already seniors.

“The guys who are from out-of-state or far from home, if they’re homesick our families welcome them in the best they can,” Striedl said. “We want to make it like home for them.”

Left tackle Ryan Brown, a St. Charles North alumnus, always informs teammates when he’s planning to head home for a weekend. Linebacker and special teamer Bobby Winkel, a Marmion product from Batavia, has entertained for dinner or big games on TV.

Both usually find at least one taker, but sometimes have accommodated as many as four or five other Huskies.

“I’m sure they always appreciate that stuff,” Brown said. “They wouldn’t pass on a home-cooked meal.”

Sweet (former) home Chicago: New Cougars manager Mark Johnson spent parts of five major league seasons as a catcher with the White Sox before concluding his playing career in Oakland, Milwaukee and St. Louis.

He managed the parent Cubs’ Short-A team in Boise, Idaho, last season and keeps his offseason home in central Georgia.

While Johnson played his final game with the White Sox in 2002, he’s confident a return to the Chicago region will feel quite familiar. Bring on the accelerated pace.

“It’s a good different. It’s very emotional. They like their sports, and that’s why it’s one of the best sports towns in America,” Johnson said. “It’s fun to be around people that are that into their sports, and I think the group that comes through that I had in Boise and all that, it’s going to be good for them up there.”

• Kevin Druley is a sports writer for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or kdruley@shawmedia.com.

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