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Geneva quarterback Daniel Santacaterina is ready for that first big hit. It's been a while since the last.
The junior was last seen in a varsity football game being ground into the turf by since-graduated Batavia defensive end Marquise Jenkins during last season's Week 3 Bulldogs win.
The result of that busted-up screen pass was the collarbone attached to Santacaterina's right throwing shoulder cracked like old clay.
"It was completely shattered," he said. "It was like the breaks had breaks on them."
Santacaterina and his bionic clavicle are back and with a measure of vengeance since, of course, beating Batavia is among Geneva's goals this season along with a conference title and a decent playoff run.
Batavia, fairly loaded, will again have something to say about that Upstate Eight Conference River Division title, and again in Week 3.
But should Geneva succeed, Santacaterina and Co. could earn hardware much preferred to the high-tech assembly now embedded in his body. Airport security-tested and approved, he's got a 6-inch titanium plate secured by nine screws -- he calls them "nails" -- bolstering the collarbone once knocked into little pieces by Jenkins' clean tackle. A 7-inch surgical scar covers all that bone and metal.
"You can actually see a couple of the heads of the nails poking out a little bit," Santacaterina said. "I like to show it off, though."
What red-blooded athlete wouldn't?
Had Geneva made the playoffs last season the quarterback and his parents, Mike and Mary Ellen, would have had a tough decision as to whether Daniel could have played. Week 10 came less than two months after Daniel's surgery last Sept. 12, the birthday of his youngest sister, Jenni, an incoming freshman soccer player. Older sister Bri played soccer for DePaul in 2008, and Jackie is a current Chicago Red Star.
"I know Mike and I were really glad we didn't have to make that decision as a parent," Mary Ellen said.
Vikings coach Rob Wicinski, who coached Daniel's older brother Michael Santacaterina, a 2009 all-state running back and current Northern Illinois linebacker, has a pretty good idea what that outcome would have been. Especially since Daniel was in practice throwing passes within a month of surgery.
"The whole family's competitors," Wicinski said.
The 4-5 record made it a moot point. Santacaterina -- who as an eighth-grader with the Tri-City Chargers suffered a not-that-severe Type-2 left shoulder separation -- continued to learn the quarterback craft from the sidelines and, once officially medically cleared, was content to take whatever knocks came his way on the basketball court.
Wicinski suspects the season-ending injury delivered some extra oomph to Santacaterina's physical and mental preparation for this season.
"I think that urgency just really uber-intensified his focus," said the coach, who has no doubt Santacaterina will continue to use his mobility to escape tight spots when necessary. Nor will the coach hesitate to call his number.
"I'm not going to stop him from being a football player," Wicinski said.
Before the injury Santacaterina completed 28 of 58 passes for 299 yards and a touchdown. After basketball he hit the weights to add about 15 pounds of muscle, up to 180 pounds on a 6-foot-2 frame. Wicinski said he threw with former Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish, of the Baltimore Colts, under the tutelage of quarterbacks guru Jeff Christensen's Throw it Deep training academy.
Most appealing to the 15-year head coach, when Wicinski speaks Santacaterina listens.
"He's invested so much into his mental reps, not just his physical reps," Wicinski said. "That's really what's made him improve. To find a kid that's all-in, that's really difficult. That really has improved his learning curve and his ability to advance in the offense."
Santacaterina, who encouraged Geneva defensive linemen to lower the boom when he tucked the ball and ran during summer drills, is psyched to throw the ball to receivers Pace Temple, Kyle Brown and Mike Landi.
"I feel as good as I've ever felt, really, no injuries, no nothing," he said. "Just hopefully I'll have a good camp and go from there into the season."
Mary Ellen Santacaterina has been around football and athletes long enough to know what makes them tick. Her son's comeback truly commences when he gets clocked and bounces right back up.
"He's really excited and anxious to get the season started," she said. "He doesn't say he's nervous, but I'm sure the first hit or two, I think that'll be good for him to get that over with."