Geneva's football season started with a bang back on May 13.
That's when quarterback Daniel Santacaterina committed to Northern Illinois University's full scholarship offer. That out of the way, the returning starter can fully concentrate on making the Vikings the improved team they look to be.
"Three years we've had him. His ability to understand the offense and get into the plays is invaluable, and he's also got the skill set not only to get into position but to execute the plays," said coach Rob Wicinski, who needs just two victories to reach 100 with Geneva.
"If the coach can stay out of the way he'll OK," Wicinski said with trademark self-deprecating humor.
If Santacaterina can remain injury-free the Vikings should be OK. He ran for 253 yards and 4 touchdowns as a junior, a practice that after a broken collarbone early his sophomore season must have left Geneva Nation holding its breath. As the season progressed it became less of an issue and is now, Wicinski said, a nonfactor.
A main factor behind Geneva's 35 points a game, however, was Santacaterina's arm and good receivers. He passed for 2,266 yards and 27 touchdowns, to 11 interceptions. Kyle Brown, now a walk-on at Pittsburgh, used all of his 6 feet, 3 inches to earn 743 yards and 10 touchdowns. Tenacious all-Upstate Eight River returner Pace Temple grabbed 37 passes for 799 yards, 9 touchdowns.
Working the height angle across from Temple this season will be 6-6 Mike Landi, who added 18 receptions for 340 yards, 2 scores. Returning fullback Max Woodworth was Santacaterina's safety valve, 15 receptions, 232 yards and 3 touchdowns.
"Our perimeter game seems to be fairly strong right now," Wicinski said. "I'm hoping the line comes along and we'll be able to move the ball on the ground."
Fullback Woodworth and tailback Liam Burns, who each ran for at least 299 yards last season, are not Wicinski's typical 6-foot tailbacks such as last year's back, T.J. Miller, who ran for 1,000 yards and 15 scores. Regardless of height, Burns, Woodworth, athletes Justin Nebel and Justin Taormina they should be daylight.
A potential strength resides on the offensive line headed by 6-6, 255-pound junior tackle Loudon Vollbrecht. He has an Illinois offer, the first of what should be many Division 1 offers. As proof of Vollbrecht's footwork and agility, he also has Northern Kentucky offer for basketball.
Vollbrecht's size is not atypical here. The other tackle, Ben Baker, is bigger at 6-7, 285. Returning starting guards Sean McKenzie and Joey Wagner each weigh 280 pounds. The center is a Boenzi, John, and those Boenzis are tough. The line should get a push.
If size and strength characterizes the offensive line, the defense features athleticism.
Stephen Kemp shot through the line to make 5.5 sacks and record 82 tackles, earning all-conference as a sophomore. Defensive end Matt Loberg registered 35 tackles, returning linebacker and 2014 defensive captain Wyatt Shodeen made 56 stops. The secondary returns both Temple, who led the Vikings with 3 interceptions, and 44-tackle safety Chris Barger.
The defense isn't greatly experienced, but returns quality in the line, at linebacker and in the secondary.
Improved third-down defense is a big key for Wicinski; last year's squad allowed 30 points a game, a 1-point improvement over 2012.
"Just another year of experience is huge," the coach said. "We seem to be a little bit more athletic this year than we have in a while, so we're hoping we can close up some opportunities for the offense a little bit quicker, get to the ball a little bit quicker."