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Backup Huskies quarterback Williams wants to make return to baseball

Published: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 5:33 a.m. CDT
(Shaw Media file photo)
Former Geneva quarterback Matt Williams keeps the football during a 2011 game at South Elgin.

Matt Williams anticipated leaving his baseball mitt in Geneva when he went off to Northern Illinois University, figuring he'd focus his considerable athletic talents exclusively on football because of the demands of being a Division-I quarterback.

Turns out, the baseball bug wasn't prepared to leave Williams be.

"It bit pretty hard," Williams said. "That's for sure."

In February, the 2012 Geneva graduate had preliminary conversations with members of the NIU football and baseball coaching staffs about playing baseball in addition to football, and that is Williams' plan as he gears up for the 2013-14 school year.

Williams acknowledged being "so nervous" about broaching the subject – attempting to play two sports in Division I is generally discouraged by coaches – but it turned out that Huskies football coach Rod Carey and his coaching staff were open-minded.

"There were all cool about it." Williams said. "They were like 'You want to play [baseball], go play. Football comes first, but if you're still working out every day and doing what you need to do, more power to you.' "

Williams is in the midst of chipping away at more than a year's worth of baseball rust, playing in limited duty this summer for St. Charles American Legion Post 342. Because of legion rules regarding college players that did not play for the team last season, Williams is not eligible to play in league games or in the postseason state tournament, but he is participating in some weekend events.

Longtime Post 342 coach Dale Wilderspin raved about Williams' play, and compared him athletically to former St. Charles East star Adam Milauskas, who went on to play professionally in the Pittsburgh Pirates' organization in the early 2000s.

"This is the third weekend now he's played with us in invitational tournaments and he had a great weekend," Wilderspin said of Williams' showing last weekend at an event in Barrington. "I don't know if he made more than two outs in four games, so he's hitting the ball hard. There are still some things he can correct and he knows that, but overall he's a great athlete."

Williams was a decorated baseball and football standout at Geneva, making a substantial varsity impact as an underclassman in both sports. He was the Chronicle's Baseball Player of the Year after a senior season in which he batted .392, drove in 49 runs and notched six saves with a 0.68 ERA as the Vikings' closer when he wasn't playing a sparkling center field.

It's premature to know what his role will be with the Huskies' baseball team, but at least there is precedent for the baseball-football double-dip on NIU's campus. Recent NIU graduate Jamison Wells also played both sports for the Huskies.

Williams isn't sweating the effect playing two sports collegiately could have on him academically.

"In high school, I always did worse [academically] when I wasn't playing a sport in the winter," Williams said. "Baseball and football keep me on track with where I need to be with school, so I think that will help me a lot."

In college baseball, teams play a lighter fall schedule to prepare for their main season in the spring. Williams expects to have extremely limited time to devote to baseball in the fall since the Huskies' football team will be in-season.

This fall, Williams again projects to be stuck behind standout Huskies quarterback Jordan Lynch, for whom the university launched an "official" Heisman Trophy publicity campaign on Monday. Williams signaled in the plays to Lynch as a redshirt during last season's Orange Bowl season for the Huskies.

Williams said he remains confident in his football future.

"It's all about getting the opportunity," Williams said. "Once you get the opportunity, you have to take it for all it's worth."

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