The Northeast Ohio chapter of the National Football Foundation held its 24th annual scholar-athlete awards banquet at the LeCenter banquet facility in Westlake, Ohio, Tuesday evening. Among those feted were future Illini Mason Monheim and Mike Svetina, who will begin their Illinois careers this summer.
The award was limited to those who combined quality football with academic achievement and community involvement. Svetina acknowledged the importance of the event.
"The whole banquet was humbling to me. There were a lot of athletes from the area plus local college players and coaches. It was a memorable night. It's nice to know that what we do in our communities and in the classroom is almost more important than the football aspect.
"You don't have forever to play football. The academics plus the volunteer work and service to your community you have the rest of your life."
Monheim spoke along similar lines.
"It was a good experience. It put a wrap on my high school career. It made the point I'm not just an athlete; academics always comes first. It was great to be around all those guys."
Thirty-three student-athletes from Northeast Ohio, plus around a dozen college players, were given awards at the banquet. Each recipient was allowed to invite guests, and Monheim and his family chose Dan Sabino. A fellow resident of Orrville, Ohio, Sabino was a center on the Illinois 1951 national championship team.
"I got to meet with him at his house a little bit," Monheim recalls. "We looked at scrapbooks and talked about Illinois. It really showed the tradition about it.
"They have a lot of reunions, and it shows you've got to be a team and stay together. Not just before or during the action, but also after. Great teams do, and it shows."
Svetlina also enjoyed meeting Sabino. Another Illini present was Doug Dieken, former star offensive tackle for the Cleveland Browns. The two helped make the evening especially memorable for Svetina.
"It was pretty neat to meet both of those guys. It was cool to have a conversation with them. I have a lot to live up to, the whole tradition with Illinois and all the good players they've produced. That was a fine example of it."
Svetina will arrive on the Illini campus early June to enroll in summer school and begin conditioning preparations for the start of his college career. Monheim will be a week late. He and a fellow signee have received invitations to the prestigious Big 33 game between Ohio and Pennsylvania all-stars.
"We play the 16th of June. Me and Joseph Spencer will be a week late getting to Illinois. I know some guys that played in it, and they said it is a great week."
Illini Nation congratulates Monheim and Svetina for their outstanding achievements and look forward to more of the same during their college careers.