Santacaterina leads charge in final year

By Danny Albers

Michael Santacaterina, redshirt senior outside linebacker, has risen to the occasion to be a leader on football’s defense after it lost Jimmie Ward and the entire defensive line from last season’s squad.

Santacaterina has been with the program for five season and has been playing on NIU’s defense for four years, one of the longest tenures on the team. Known for his intellect on the field, a lot of the leadership responsibilities are put on him, and he doesn’t mind that very much.

“I just try to show up and be the same guy every day, try to come out on the practice field and have the same energy and the same mentality as the day before, and come with a sort of passion that these guys can try to match,” Santacaterina said. “I think as a senior that is something you need to try to have.”

When the Huskies need him the most, they can depend on Santacaterina to be there. In the 2013 season against Ball State, with both the Cardinals and the Huskies undefeated in MAC play, Santacaterina led the team with 11 tackles, including 10 solo tackles. In that same year, in a close game with Eastern Illinois, Santacaterina recorded 15 stops.

In 2012, he intercepted Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning to end a drive in Huskie territory and spur an NIU comeback victory, helping the Huskies make their run to the Orange Bowl.

Those types of results don’t just appear; it takes preparation, something Santacaterina has excelled in at NIU.

“Throughout the week it’s all about preparation,” Santacaterina said. “Film room is huge. Mondays are typically the days off of practice, so we’re always in there to watch film and prepare for the next opponent. The other big thing is getting your body right. There is also a physical side of the game: Cold tub, rehabbing and being in the weight room with coach, who’s always doing a great job. And obviously executing on the practice field.”

Santacaterina has improved every year while at NIU. He started four games in 2011, recording 28 tackles and one interception on the season. In 2012, as a back-up linebacker he made 28 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, one interception, four passes defensed and two forced fumbles. Last year he was named the starting outside linebacker and recorded 64 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack and five passes defensed, missing two games to injury.

“I think I have become more football savvy as the years have gone on and being in the system for so long,” Santacaterina said. “All these coaches have been here for as long as I’ve been playing. Staying in the system has helped me get ahead mentally. In the weight room I have gotten stronger and faster. The other thing is just confidence. I have been playing for a while now and having that experience definitely gives you confidence.”

With this type of resume, Santacaterina’s coaches expect a lot out of his senior season. Linebackers coach Kevin Kane said he expects Santacaterina to play like a senior.

“I think senior are guys who are vocal but at the same time can lead by example, and I think Mike is able to do that,” Kane said. “He’s not the biggest or strongest guy out there, but he’s still able to find himself around the football. I think guys respect that about him.”

Redshirt junior linebacker Boomer Mays has played alongside Santacaterina for the past three seasons. In that span the two of them have pushed each other to become better football players. Next season when Santacaterina is gone a lot of those senior leadership responsibilities will fall into the hands of Boomer.

“We just compete against each other,” Mays said. “We say things like I bet I can get more picks than you. It makes the room fun, so it makes people want to come to practice. Nobody really likes practice, but you got to make it enjoyable.”