When Geneva junior running back Michael Ratay went down with an ankle injury against South Elgin in Week 2, Geneva coach Rob Wicinski’s heart dropped.
Ratay broke his other ankle before his sophomore season, missing the whole year, and spent the off-season trying to recover for his junior season.
“I just felt horrible for him,” Wicinski said. “He worked so hard. I was hoping it wasn’t anything too serious. It was a nuisance more than anything.”
After limping around through Week 5, Ratay blossomed into the Kane County Chronicle Football Player of the Year, leading the Vikings to an 11-1 record, which matched the school record, and a trip to the IHSA Class 7A state quarterfinals.
“The biggest concern was coming back off of his injury,” Wicinski said of Ratay’s season-ending injury as a sophomore. “We saw signs over the summer, but we didn’t know how he would be in pads. Once he got healthy, he really jumped fast.”
Ratay was named co-MVP of the Western Sun Conference, along with Kaneland senior quarterback Jody Henningson. He also was named to the Class 7A Illinois High School Football Coaches’ Association All-State Team.
He was a workhorse all season, gaining 1,743 yards with 29 touchdowns on 275 carries, all area highs. He also caught 11 passes for 239 yards and four touchdowns and threw a 15-yard touchdown pass in the Vikings’ season-ending loss to East St. Louis.
“The first couple games, I was a little nervous running on it, but once we got going, I felt a lot better about it and started believing in it,” Ratay said. “Our team had a great, great year this season. I was just lucky to get such a great team out there.”
In watching film of the Vikings’ playoff games, Wicinski is excited what the future holds for Ratay.
“I watched the playoff games, and there are still a lot of things he’ll get better at,” Wicinski said. “As he got more comfortable with the line and the offense, he started to make cuts where he should. He’s a good student of the game. He’s the real deal. There is still upside there.”
With that in mind, Ratay decided to stop playing his other sport, basketball, this winter. Ratay was a two-year starter at point guard, but decided to go full-bore into football heading into his senior year.
“I wanted to spend one year getting better at football, hopefully play in college sometime,” Ratay said. “It was tough, but I was going to have to eventually pick one, and I decided to pick football and become the best I could at that.”
Instead of hitting the hardwood, Ratay will attend speed camps and adhere to a strict weight program to prepare for his all-important senior season.
“When I saw him handle the speed at East St. Louis, I thought he could play at the next level,” Wicinski said. “He does a lot of good things. He’s probably one of our best defensive players. He’ll be looking at that role a little more next year. I dabbled with him at quarterback, too. He’ll go to a school and play football. Where he’ll pick, I don’t know.”
The buzz from college recruiters hasn’t reached a fever pitch for Ratay yet. Helping Ratay is the recent recruiting of current Northern Illinois University linebacker Pat Schiller and Ratay’s brother, Shaun, who spent time at NIU this fall and is looking to transfer. Both are stars from the 2006 Vikings.
“There hasn’t been a lot of interest yet,” Ratay said. “Hopefully I can get a highlight tape out there and people can see who I am. Not a lot of people were looking at [players from Geneva] before the last couple years. I’m pretty sure Shaun will try to help me as much as he can.”