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Shaun Ratay figures to feel right at home when he steps foot onto Geneva's Burgess Field Friday night.
Well, sort of.
Ratay was a 2-year starting quarterback who threw 28 touchdown passes and helped lead the Vikings' football team to a Class 6A state semifinal berth during his senior year in 2006.
His former head coach, Rob Wicinski, continues to patrol the sideline at the helm for Geneva.
But instead of donning Geneva's royal blue school colors, Ratay will be wearing hues more appropriate for October — the orange and black colors of St. Charles East — when the Saints (4-1, 2-0) face the Vikings (3-2, 2-1) this weekend.
That's because Ratay is in his first year as the Saints' offensive coordinator. The 24-year-old will be calling plays as a member of St. Charles East's coaching staff under the direction of head coach Mike Fields.
While Geneva celebrates its Homecoming festivities Friday, it will also be a homecoming of sorts for Fields, who was the Vikings' sophomore coach before taking over at St. Charles East in 2009, and Ratay.
"We really haven't talked about the nostalgic part of it," said Fields, whose team picked up his first victory in 4 tries over Geneva last season (34-27 at St. Charles East). "We're just preparing to face a very good team. It should be a lot of fun."
The 6-foot-7 Ratay, who also played basketball at Geneva, has fond memories of his high school football playing days.
"There's nothing better than high school football," said Ratay, whose younger brother Michael was a star tailback at Geneva and is now a senior playing at Grand Valley State (Mich.). "You have the opportunity to be a part of something special.
"I remember my sophomore year when Alex (Pokorny) converted a key 4th-and-15 play in the fourth quarter of our state quarterfinal game against Freeport (Geneva won 30-21)," he added. "And I remember my senior year when we lost to Batavia in the state semifinals.
"I remember every play of my high school career."
To me, that sounds like the perfect prerequisite to become a high school offensive coordinator.
After several meetings, Fields concurred.
"We met a lot," said Fields. "I've been a head coach at either the sophomore or varsity levels for 15 years now and it finally got to a point where I had never let anybody else call offensive plays. I talked with Shaun to make sure he was fully committed but I trusted him and have had 100 percent faith and confidence in him.
"It was a little tough to let the reins go but I have not looked back once," added Fields. "Shaun's very organized and he's a fresh mind with bright ideas that us 'old' guys don't always have anymore. He has brought a new energy back to the program."
Fields recalled the first time he met Ratay more than 10 years ago.
"He was at a bowling outing with his seventh-grade friends," said Fields. "Rob (Wicinski) and I walked in and there's this 6-foot-2 kid standing there. We asked if he played sports and he says, 'I play quarterback.' We were both like, 'holy cow.'
"Who would've known that would be the start of it."
Ratay, who went on to play football at Northern Illinois University, Elmhurst College and Illinois State University, kept in touch with Fields throughout his college days.
"We've got a good relationship," said Ratay. "I talked with him all the time when I was away at school. He's a great guy who cares so much for all the kids that play for him and for everyone in the school."
Fields returned the favor.
"Shaun has always been like a son to me," said Fields. "He's one of the special kids I coached there (at Geneva)."
Last year, Ratay served as a volunteer assistant for the Saints while attending Illinois State.
"Our business school didn't have class on Fridays so I'd drive back up (to Geneva) on Thursday night," said Ratay. "I'd spend Friday morning training as an intern (with Morgan Stanley Wealth Management) and then head to the St. Charles East game later that night."
Thanks to technological advances (Hudl video scouting system), Ratay had the opportunity to "attend" Saints football practices last fall some 135 miles away in Normal.
"I watched practices and game film every day," said Ratay.
"He'd give me suggestions during the week and he came home for every game," said Fields. "It was great because the kids (players) started to get to know him and he got to be around the kids and coaching staff.
Graduating from Illinois State last spring, the finance major currently works alongside his dad with the Ratay Group. "I'm really lucky that my dad is my boss because he gives me the freedom I need to juggle work and coaching."
Ratay, who maintains a "great" relationship with Wicinski at Geneva, thoroughly enjoys working with the Saints' players and coaching staff.
"It's fun to be around such good kids," said Ratay. "They're not selfish. They understand the big picture and they always want to get better. I feel so lucky to be able to coaching with Coach Fields and with these kids. I got lucky because we've got so many talented players and so many experienced seniors. We've got great skilled players."
Ratay's presence has allowed Fields more freedom on game day.
"Rather than worrying about calling plays, I'm able to walk the sideline now and look at the (opposing) defense," said Fields. "I can tell what they're doing and what formations they're in."
It also sends Fields flashbacks from his days at Geneva.
"It has provided great perspective for me," he said. "I was Rob's (Wicinski) eyes at Geneva providing any insight I could give him. It has come full circle now with Shaun here. He was a heck of a player and he always was a student of the game."
The plan has worked out well for both parties.
"We've scored more points (174) at this point than we have in my five years here," said Fields, who will always remember sharing one moment in particular with Ratay.
"Right after the St. Charles North game (East won 28-21 in overtime), it was a personal moment for us. As we hugged each other he said, 'thanks for giving me this opportunity.' There's no better moment as a teacher and coach."
Which is better — playing or coaching?
"They're two different things," said Ratay. "I miss playing football but I really enjoy coaching, too."
No stranger to Burgess Field, Ratay has one major confession to make prior to Friday's Upstate Eight River clash.
"I don't know where the away locker room is," he said.
You can reach Craig Brueske at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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