A soccer field is often called a pitch, but for Cody Witkowski of Batavia, a better word might be sanctuary.
“I just love every second of playing soccer,” Witkowski said. “To me, it’s like an escape. You can be having a bad day and you go over the touchline and you can forget about things.”
Witkowski, a freshman on the Northern Illinois men's soccer team, had a lot of good days this season on the pitch for the Huskies. He played in all 18 matches, starting 10, and displayed a great deal of versatility. Witkowski said he appeared at five or six different positions across the backline and in midfield.
“I’m comfortable playing anywhere,” he said. “My favorite position is probably center back.”
While he prefers to work at stopping the other team from scoring, Witkowski can step into the attack, as well. He put three shots on goal in an early-season match against Evansville and scored on one of them. He also picked up an assist in the early going.
“It was great to start off with some points,” Witkowski said. “We didn’t have the greatest record, but I played in every game, so I was happy with it.”
The Huskies finished 4-13-1 overall, including a 0-5-1 mark in the Mid-American Conference. Witkowski said he expects major improvement from the team next season.
Witkowski is working to improve his own game even over Christmas break. Last week, he spent several days working out with other college players, and starting Jan. 6 he’ll take part in several training sessions with the Chicago Fire’s Premier Development League (PDL) team. Witkowski played for the Chicago Fire Academy club team and the MSL team holds his professional rights for the time being.
“I’m looking forward to PDL over the summer, just to get back playing with them,” he said. “I’m young enough I can play with the Super 20s, but I want to play with the PDL team. It’s like the next step toward professional soccer, so I hope to have a great season and get my name out there with the professional coaches.”
Witkowski said he started playing soccer around the age of 6. He also played basketball and baseball in his early years, but it didn’t take him long to decide to focus on soccer.
“I probably realized that in middle school, like when all the kids are playing basketball or cutting down to one sport.”
He spent some time playing for the Fox Valley Strikers and the Eclipse Select Soccer Club before joining the Chicago Fire Academy in high school.
What attracted him to the Fire Academy?
“It’s the environment, like being around the professional players,” Witkowski said. “I got an opportunity to play in South Carolina with the [Fire] reserve team.”
At Batavia High School, Witkowski was a three-time all-conference selection in the Upstate Eight Conference and he earned all-state recognition his senior year. His older brother, Tyler, was a goalkeeper for the Bulldogs.
“I played with him for two years,“ Cody said. “That was a lot of fun.”
The younger Witkowski received scholarship offers from Louisville, St. Louis, and Illinois-Chicago, but chose to attend college in nearby DeKalb.
“Northern is just the best fit for me,” he said. “It’s 30 minutes from my home. It’s perfect. I’m very happy with the decision I made.”
Witkowski said he also liked the coaching staff and facilities and had played with some of the players on the team, like Charlie Oliver, a sophomore from Crystal Lake.
When he has free time, Witkowski said he enjoys typical teenager activities like hanging out with friends and watching TV.
“I’m a big advocate of watching sports,” he said, noting that in addition to soccer matches, he enjoys NBA and NFL telecasts.
TV can provide a welcome respite from the worries of the day, but for Witkowski, it’s primarily a means of killing time until he can return to his real sanctuary – the soccer field.
• Dennis D. Jacobs has covered sports for newspapers in five different decades. To suggest local college athletes deserving recognition in the On Campus column, email him at email@example.com.