One round-trip plane ticket from Baltimore to Honolulu: $1,200. Two tickets to a game at Aloha Stadium: $100. A once-in-a-lifetime chance to represent the Naval Academy and play college football in your home state of Hawaii on Thanksgiving weekend: priceless. Aaron Santiago is one of five Navy football players going home next week when the Midshipmen play Hawaii.
When Aaron Santiago wakes up next Thursday morning, he will be home. When he wakes up next Saturday, he will be getting ready to play in a college football game, on national television, about 17 miles from his hometown.
Of course this type of storyline happens all the time in college sports, however when you play football for the Naval Academy and are from Hawaii, like Santiago, it is a unique and special event.
According to research done by the Honolulu Star Bulletin, Santiago is only one of eight players currently on a FBS roster who graduated from high school in Hawaii and plays for a college that is located east of the Mississippi River. Four of the other seven players are current teammates and play alongside Santiago at Navy.
A 2007 graduate of Kapolei High School, which also produced former Navy quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, Santiago is currently listed behind two seniors at slot back on the depth chart. He has had only one carry for nine yards so far on the season. He has played a bigger role, however, on special teams where he has appeared in six games and has made four solo tackles.
Ever since he heard that Navy would be traveling to Hawaii, Santiago has been pushing himself even harder to make sure he earns his playing time…and his airline ticket to the islands.
"During my plebe year we confirmed that we were playing Hawaii. I was pretty excited," said Santiago. "My first goal was to contribute to the team and then work during the fall in hope of making the traveling squad. I had a pretty good last scrimmage and I think that helped me."
Playing at Aloha Stadium, which is where Navy will face Hawaii a week from Saturday, will not be a new experience for Santiago. In fact that is where the Navy slot back played his last high school game – a game he would probably like to forget.
"(I played there in the) beginning of my senior year in high school…it was my first and last game of the season because I got hurt. I've always dreamed about going back home and playing in the stadium. It will be such a different experience playing there this time…for a college team," said Santiago. "Hopefully it will be a lot better this time around."
In addition to studying, practicing and taking care of his military commitments, Santiago has had another burden to deal with leading up to the Hawaii game. He needed to find fellow midshipmen who were willing to donate their allotted tickets to him. And since all five players on the Navy roster who are from Hawaii will be traveling to the game, he had to do a little scrambling.
"I had to ask a lot of my teammates for tickets to the game. I'm probably going to have thirty or more people coming to this game. My fellow a-backs hooked me up though."
Santiago, who is majoring in Systems Engineering, currently has a 3.2 GPA and is using the bye week to catch-up on some homework.
And while this football season has already been a great experience, Santiago hopes to do a different kind of catching up in the spring– on the depth chart. However, it won't be easy for him because Navy has a full stable of young slot backs including sophomore Marcus Curry and freshman Gee Gee Greene, both of whom have seen a lot more playing time than the Kapolei High School graduate.
"We have a lot of talent at a-back. To get in the rotation would be nice. It's going to be a challenge (to start) next season, but I am looking forward to it," said Santiago.
The four other players who are from Hawaii and will be traveling to the Aloha State for the game are:
Bruce Andrews, WR, sophomore (Kailua, Hawaii)
Matt Shibata, WR, freshman (Honolulu, Hawaii)
Cyril Ontai, FB, freshman (Kapolei, Hawaii)
Kahikolu Pescaia, C, freshman (Kailua, Hawaii)
The recruiting pipeline from Hawaii has been well documented and is due in large part to Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo. A native of Laie', Hawaii, Niumatalolo played and coached for the Rainbow Warriors.
As previously mentioned in the above article, the Honolulu Star Bulletin compiled a list of current football players who graduated from Hawaii high schools and are playing for FBS colleges on the mainland. I took the list of 101 athletes that they compiled and broke it down by individual schools. Oregon State is at the top of the list with 15 players. The three schools located east of the Mississippi River are bolded.
New Mexico State
San Diego State
San Jose State