Rose Bowl Performance Helps Santella

If the Illini football team had an Achilles Heel the last couple years, it was punting. But near the end of last season, Anthony Santella began to show the consistency needed for the position. And his best day was in the biggest pressure cooker of them all, the Rose Bowl.

"It was really good to end with a game like in the Rose Bowl," understates Santella. "It honestly was one I was the most comfortable with. I couldn't even explain it either. In the walk through the day before, it felt really comfortable. I felt I was going to kick the hell out of the ball."

Anthony's confidence level exploded that day as he averaged 44.7 yards on six booming punts, and it bodes well for things to come.

"It got me a lot more focused. And I'll just take what I learned there and apply it to every game. Just build on that and carry it into the spring and next year."

Anthony is a 6'-2" sophomore out of Wauconda high school. He walked on at Utah for their fall camp, saw he would lose out to an All-Star, and transferred to Illinois for the spring semester. Since he wasn't on scholarship and didn't play at Utah, he became immediately eligible at Illinois. But he received no promises of playing time.

"I just wanted to get a shot. They told me I would get to compete for the job. And if I'm the guy, I'll play. It just worked out for me.

"Coming here last year from Utah, I was kind of like the odd man looking in because I wanted to fit in with the team. But now, I've got a year under my belt and I wouldn't trade coming here for the world. I love it here."

First year jitters affects most players, and Santella was no exception.

"My consistency was definitely a factor last year. I had some difficult games, but a lot of it was just experience."

Anthony is a much better punter than he showed last season, and he gives himself only an average grade for his efforts.

"Mediocre at best. If you're going to punt in a big conference like the Big Ten and go to the Rose Bowl, you have to be on top of your game. I need to do that through all the games we're going to be playing this year."

Santella is the consumate team player, so he doesn't look primarily at his hang time or yardage on punts. Rather, he looks at how his punts have helped his team.

"I grade myself on net yardage (which includes touchback and runback yardage) because that's the whole team together. Whatever I can help the team do to win, that's the overall result. So I'm just looking to do that."

He's looking to become consistently reliable in his kicks.

"Definitely. I'm going to have to if we're looking to build on what we did last year. Special teams is a huge part, and punting's got to be consistent for us to do that."

Winter conditioning has helped him gain additional strength to aid his punting.

"Lou (Hernandez) has us building our upper body and flexibility, and we have to take care of the technical parts on our own. The stuff he has us do helps us get stronger, helps your core and everything so you can kick better."

With his improved confidence, he is encouraged by his improvement going into spring ball.

"I've started off pretty well, and I just have to kick off the rust from kicking indoors the whole winter. With losing Kyle Knezetic (long snapper), Tad Keely has stepped up. We got a lot of work done this winter, and I'm just looking to improve from last year."

Coach Ron Zook concedes that Santella would probably be his punter if he had to choose today. But he also has scholarship athlete Kyle Yelton and walkon Jarod Bosch competing for the position, so he prefers to keep them competing and improving.

"I was looking at last week's stats today, and they're all punting pretty well. I think it's good to keep the pressure on all of them. We've still got to speed all of them up. It's ok when no one's rushing. But they've got to practice when there's people rushing."

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