Illinois player of the year commits!

Not even two weeks into his tenure as head coach for the University of Nebraska, coach Bill Callahan is already making an impact, scoring his second verbal of the late-recruiting season. Santino Panico, a superb all-around athlete, Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Illinois and a young man with a definite Chicago attitude. That's tough for those that don't know and it describes this standout from the Land of Lincoln to a tee.

The one non-commit that visited Lincoln this last weekend left the town as yet another one, Santino Panico telling coach, Bill Callahan that he wanted to be a Husker. "Coach Callahan offered me a full ride after I met with him." Santino said. "I said I have to talk to my father about it, but I knew right away I wanted to take it."

And take it he did, Panico becoming the 12th member of the class of 2004.

Out of Liberty, Panico's two-way versatility was enough to garner a scholarship offer from head coach, Bill Callahan on his official visit to NU, versatility that's well illustrated by the prolific variety of statistics Santino was able to amass during his senior season.

On defense, Panico had 72 tackles and had one interception taken back for a touchdown and on offense, Panico caught 23 balls for over 500 yards and a score and rushing, he scored 19 times on 119 carries, Santion accumulating over 1,300 yards in the process. Add to that individual achievements like Illinois' Gatorade Player of the Year, first team All-State and he was also named to the US Army All-American team.

If you aren't sold on Panico's stats and for whatever reason aren't sold on his impressive post-season awards, Santino's attitude is certain to win the hearts if not minds of those that follow Nebraska football. Plainly put, he's a gamer. In fact, on defense, he's got a bit of a reputation as a kid that likes to lay the wood to anyone that moves. "Ever since I was little, I was really aggressive." Santino said. "In football, if you don't want to get hit, you are in the wrong sport."

"It's better to give a hit than take a hit and maybe if I give the hit, maybe the guy won't want to come back. In football, it's legal to hit somebody, so that always feels good."

And right now, Santino feels good about his decision. Though the timing was a bit short, Panico feels no less fortunate and happy about his choice, a choice that a best friend of his had just last year, Tommy Zbikowski opting for Notre Dame over Nebraska. Santino said that in many ways, the two are much the same in how they do things if not where. "The work ethic." Santino said about what is most similar between him and Zbikowski. "We both work very hard , we're both very aggressive and when we want something, we go and get it."

The program was great for Panico. Add to that, a coach that hails from Chicago certainly didn't hurt. What really sold Santino though was the players he would soon find himself amongst when he steps on campus later this year. "I am so excited to be with the players of Nebraska." he said. "When I went on my trip, all the Nebraska players were amazing. Very accepting of me, showing me around and not putting up a front."

"They told me the truth, said things were going to be hard, but if you want something bad enough, you could make an impact here."

Speaking of impact, Santino isn't any different than any other player. He wants to play. When that is though, Santino has his hopes, but will take whatever situation comes to him as he becomes a brand new Husker. "Everybody says it's a feat if you can start your first year." Santino said. "If I can't get on the field my first year, I'll redshirt, but I am going to work my tail off this off-season to start and if it doesn't work, it doesn't work and I will just wait my turn."

How long will that be? Considering the fact that Nebraska is looking at Santino to probably play either WR or SS, that will indicate just how soon Panico could get on the field. As you see though, he's not worried.

Adding his name to the list, Santino finds pride in knowing he's part of the Big Red. He's also the kind of kid that wants his actions to speak for what he's capable and not the words he utters about them. Simplistic, to the point and he's only got one thing to say to Husker fans as they look over his bio, ponder his stats and wonder just what he will do. "When I get the opportunity to play, I always give my best effort." Santino said. "Never be down, always be fired up and Go Big Red!"

Steve Ryan can be reached at or 402-730-5619

Make sure to check out the RED ZONE for SOUND BYTES as you don't get to just read about Santino's commit, but in his own voice, hear what Panico had to say about his commit, the Huskers and why he chose NU.

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