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Cary-Grove grad Michael Vilardo settles in at Penn, 2nd base

Playing two sports and being part of six different schools over the past three years has been a whirlwind for Michael Vilardo.

“It was definitely not ideal,” said Vilardo, a Cary-Grove grad. “But I’ve learned a lot about myself as a person.”

A prep hockey standout who committed to Ohio State as a sophomore at C-G, Vilardo’s first college choice seems like ancient history.

After stints at the University of Richmond and two junior colleges, Vilardo has found a sport and a school that is a perfect fit.

This spring, Vilardo earned the starting second base job for NCAA Division I Pennsylvania’s baseball program and achieved Big 5 Rookie of the Year honors while leading the Quakers in RBIs (31), doubles (19) and total bases (82) to go along with a .320 average.

“I couldn’t be happier,” he said. “The one good thing is I always had to keep proving myself to new groups of people.”

In high school, Vilardo was certain that hockey would be his future.

“I was 16 when I made my first college decision,” he said. “I wasn’t mentally prepared to make that decision then.”

By the time he was a senior, baseball and the University of Richmond were his choices.

“When I got there, two of the four coaches who recruited me had left,” he said. “They moved me to the outfield and it wasn’t the best for me.”

Vilardo said he chose to leave Richmond after a semester and pursue hockey again, playing for the Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League.

Vilardo even played in the Team USA developmental program with Blackhawks left wing Brandon Saad.

“I decided that hockey wasn’t something I wanted to pursue long term,” he said.

When he chose Penn – and baseball again – Vilardo put his academic career into overdrive.

He enrolled as a full-time student at McHenry County College and Harper College to complete 62 credit hours by August 2012 and earn his associate degree.

Though he was a freshman on the baseball roster at Penn, Vilardo said he entered school as a sophomore academically.

“I took a really long route, but things have paid off and I’m happy,” he said. “I’ve learned that you have to be confident with your decisions and in yourself.”

Vilardo started 42 games for Penn at second base, ranking second on the team with 25 runs scored and a .477 slugging percentage. He also was named second-team All-Ivy League by CollegeSportsMadness.com.

He began the summer with the Columbia (S.C.) Blowfish in the Coastal Plains League, a 14-team summer collegiate league along the East Coast, before being sidelined by a stress fracture in his right foot.

“I hurt it [at Penn] and played with it the whole season,” said Vilardo, who is now resting his injury at home. “As a college athlete, you don’t get much time off. This has allowed me to spend some time with my family.”

Redbird recognition: Huntley grad Jordan Neukirch has been selected as a third-team Football Championship Subdivision preseason All-America fullback by the Beyond Sports Network.

Neukirch, who will be a senior at Illinois State this fall, was the primary blocker in 2012 for ISU leading rusher Darrelyn Dunn, who compiled 1,015 yards and 13 touchdowns. Neukirch caught two TD passes last season while earning first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference recognition.

ISU, which finished 9-4 last season and advanced to the FCS quarterfinals, opens the 2013 schedule Aug. 29 at Ball State.

MCC standouts: Three McHenry County College baseball players were honored by NJCAA Region IV this spring.

First baseman Matt Schmidt (Jacobs) was a first-team selection and earned a spot on the Rawlings Gold Glove. Shortstop Chase Matheson (McHenry) and third baseman Nick Richter (Cary-Grove) were second-team choices.

All three players, along with pitcher Ian Maxeiner (Marian Central) and Dom Winiecki (Crystal Lake South), were named first-team All-Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference. Pitchers Lincoln Herendeen (Marian Central) and Nick Kostalek (Huntley), along with designated hitter Pat Towne (Harvard), were second-team All-Skyway selections.

Drake leader: Cary-Grove grad Brandon Coleman was chosen by teammates as one of three captains for Drake University’s football team.Coleman, a fifth-year senior defensive lineman, led the team last season with 13.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks and is a two-time All-Pioneer Football League selection.

Earlier this month, Coleman was named to the College Football Performance Awards Football Championship Subdivision preseason defensive line watch list. The awards are based on scientific analysis of a player’s overall effectiveness.

Drake, which has won back-to-back PFL titles, opens the season Aug. 29 at home against Grand View.

• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column and a blog about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at BarryOnCampus@hotmail.com, check out his On Campus blog at McHenryCountySports.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryOnCampus.

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