Fond du Lac High School senior Ben Maruska had a decision to make. At least in theory it was a decision.
The offensive lineman had committed to play football at St. Cloud State, a Division II school offering him a scholarship. But just two weeks before this past Wednesday’s signing day, Northern Illinois University’s new coaching staff showed interest. They recruited him and offered him the chance to be a preferred walk-on, with no scholarship guarantees.
“When they came in late, I was immediately interested in the opportunity,” Maruska said.
“It’s been my dream to play Division I. Once I had the opportunity it was a no brainer.”
NIU is located in Dekalb, Ill. and plays in the Mid-American Conference. The Huskies enjoyed a program milestone by playing in the Orange Bowl this past season.
Maruska won’t get scholarship money right away, but there’s always a chance that he can earn a scholarship in the future.
“That’s something I want to make sure they don’t even have a choice,” he said. “I’m going to work hard and prove people wrong.”
Tim Polasek had been an assistant at North Dakota State, a Division I-AA team that had kept tabs on Maruska. When he was hired during the offseason at NIU, he and the staff set their sights on the Fondy lineman who was first-team all-Fox Valley Association.
Maruska took a visit two Sundays ago and then committed the next day.
New NIU head coach Rod Carey, during his post-signing day press conference, said that Maruska “fits that late bloomer mold that we are really excited to have.”
He added that he knows Fondy assistant Steve Jorgensen from his time as head coach at Oshkosh North and Kimberly and, “You know when Coach Jorgensen has his hands on a guy like this, the guy is going to be a good football player.”
Fondy head coach Mike Gnewuch coached a current NIU lineman while at Hartland Arrowhead, and he said that Maruska (6-foot-5, 290 pounds) and NIU are a good fit.
“He’s definitely got the potential. He’s big and he’s got the athleticism. He’s out to prove people wrong,” Gnewuch said. “He has the frame and body to play Division I football. Now he’s just got to put in the work.”