I've been covering recruiting for so long that I can't remember who was a "five-star" or "four-star" player. I don't remember who made the top 100 or top 250, or was an "also-ran." In fact, I guess I never really cared as much as most fans.
I've seen top 100 players never play a down of football for the school they signed with, and I've seen "one-star" players develop into All-Americans. The ebb and flow of recruiting is a fascinating ride, that's for sure, but it's hardly and exact science. Irish offensive guard Dan Santucci is a prime example.
To be honest, I can't tell you how many stars Santucci "earned" out of high school. I don't remember if it was two or three but it was certainly and either/or situation. I also remember that Dan Santucci wasn't too concerned about it when he accepted a scholarship to attend the University of Notre Dame.
"You know, I was just proud," said Santucci when reminded of how he earned his scholarship after a strong performance at Notre Dame summer football camp in the summer before his senior season.
It didn't take long for Dan to accept, and it probably took even less for the doubters and boo birds to surface.
But Santucci quickly made a name for himself. Fiercely proud of his Chicago roots, Santucci represented his hard-nosed city well and impressed a number of upper classmen, including former player and Irish Eyes expert Sean Milligan.
"Dan is all heart," Milligan said of his former practice foe. "Here's this kid, he's not very big, he doesn't have the greatest technique, he's going against (Jeff) Faine and I, and we just punish him every day. But every day, he comes back and he wants to fight us. He's trying to get in our face and he wasn't afraid.
"He's getting his butt kicked, but he still wants to fight us. That's when I knew that he had what it takes to be a great football player. Football is important to Dan. He went from a nothing D-lineman to a two-year starter at O-line. That takes heart."
Santucci looks back on his college career and all he can do is smile.
"It's been a dream," Santucci said. "It's been unbelievable. I thank God every day. I just go out there and try and work hard every day. I just let the coaches make the decisions and that's just how I've gone about it my whole time since I've been here. I just figured some day, if I worked my butt off, I'd get my chance and I did."
After spending his first two season at defensive line, Santucci was asked to switch to offensive guard during the spring of his junior season. After learning the nuances of offensive line play all spring and fall, Santucci earned his first start against Oregon State in the Insight.com Bowl.
Not too bad for a player some felt would never play a down of football.
"It felt great to finally play," Santucci said. "I guess I did prove some people wrong. It feels good but there's no time to get complacent. I know I have a lot of improvement yet to make. Coach Latina reminds me of that every day. My main goal is to help this team win…to go out there and beat Georgia Tech. It feels great to play. I beats not playing, I can tell you that."
Santucci was also part of an offense that shattered 11 offensive records in 2005, but the red-haired Harwood Heights, Ill. native said this team is far from satisfied with their results.
"I'm really excited for this year," he said. "Nobody liked how the season ended last year. You can tell that this team wants it. Last year we had to learn to believe. Coach Weis brought that. This year we believe we're going to get it done. I'm just really excited about this team and I hope in my final year we can finally get the job done and win the National Championship."
"Its' gone by fast," said Santucci when asked to reflect on his Notre Dame career. "When you think about it, it's kind of a shocker. I'm going to graduate this spring. The whole thing seems like it was yesterday. I just want to enjoy my final season and hopefully we can win it all."
What will Santucci miss the most about Notre Dame?
"Definitely the guys…..all my teammates that have worked so hard with me," Santucci said. "The whole excitement of Notre Dame. The 80,000 plus screaming fans, playing on TV every weekend, just the whole atmosphere and everything that goes with that. I'll miss my teammates and the atmosphere the most."
In the fall of 2002 Dan Santucci had dreams of being Notre Dame's best pass rusher. Instead he ended up blocking for the most potent offense in Notre Dame history. Does Santucci miss the defensive side of the ball, even a little?
"Not really," he said with a laugh. "I try to bring the D-line mentality to the O-line. I try to play real aggressive. Sometimes I play too aggressive—I get over my feet—but I've been able to transfer that mentality over to the offense and I don't really miss it at all. I still get to mix it up in there. It's still a fight in there. It's been a great move for me."
What does Santucci like to do off the field?
"I'm a big sports guy. I love lying on the couch and watching almost any sport, whether it's a good basketball, baseball or football game. I do a lot of that. I love to going out to eat a lot. That's something I really look forward to…going to get some food. I also like fishing a lot. I don't get to do that a lot but I definitely want to go on a trip to Canada in the next couple of years."
Which Irish player is the biggest character on the team?
"Definitely (Jeff) Samardzija. He's amazing. This kid, all the hype and all he goes through, he just acts like it's nothing. He's always laughing, always joking, joking through games, he keeps it light out there for us. It's awesome to see because he relaxes everyone. Definitely him and Zibby (Tom Zbikowski) and Trevor Laws. They take everything serious, but they bring a little bit of fun too it as well."
On how Brady Quinn has grown as a leader in the huddle.
"He's very composed in the huddle. He's a very confident person. That's the biggest thing. He knows how good we can be and how good he is. You can see it in his eyes. He'll tell us when it's time to step it up. When we have a couple of bad plays he'll let us know it's time to regroup. He's gained so much confidence over the last year. I'm excited to watch for him and to block for him this year."
On being a mini-celebrity on campus.
"I guess it's nice. I don't really pay any attention to that stuff. That's not really me. I'm just one of the guys on the team. I'm just doing what I need to do. I really don't think about it at all. I'm just one of the guys."
On what he misses the most about Chicago.
"My friends back home, the food, my mom's cooking for sure. My mom can cook. Everyone loves to come back to my house to eat. The city is a great place, but I really like it out here in South Bend. It's only an hour and half home so I can go back there on the weekends."
On what he likes best about Notre Dame.
"The best thing about Notre Dame is the tradition. It's every kid's dream to play Notre Dame football. Even the people who hate Notre Dame, they'd love to play here, that's why they hate Notre Dame. The atmosphere, the excitement, the students, the people, the tradition….it's an unbelievable place."
On what he'd change about Notre Dame.
"Maybe not Notre Dame, and I know Grape Road has a lot of restaurants, but we need some better, little, local Italian diners. I'm sick of the Friday's and the Olive Garden's. We've got Bruno's, and I love that place and eat there all the time, but we need some more authentic Italian places…you know, those hole-in-the-wall places."
On which Notre Dame defensive lineman has given him the most trouble over his career.
"The guy I go against a lot is Derek Landri. He's an unbelievable player. He's got the total package. He's a strong as can be and he's as quick as can be. All he can do is make me a better player, and he's made me a lot better player. We have some battles out there, we both enjoy it, and hopefully it will make both of us better."
On which D-line was the most difficult to play against in his ND career.
"Definitely Tennessee. Last year with Tennessee, they were really good. All of those guys were strong guys, really quick, and they had a swagger about them. We handled them OK, but as a whole unit, they were definitely the best."
On who is the hardest worker on the team.
"I'll say this. Maurice Stovall is definitely the hardest worker I've ever seen. I know he's gone now, and I wish him the best of luck. He was my freshman roommate for two-a-days. I admire everything he stands for and everything he did. We're all kind of looking at him and his work ethic and what he brought to this program. He never complained. He just went out there and did it. Brady works very hard. I think everyone on the team works very hard."
On which win has been his favorite win in his career so far.
"I'd say at Michigan. It was unbelievable. Just going in there, and their amazing record in the Big House….that first drive, march down there, we quieted the crowd, our section of fans were going crazy, there was nothing like it. That was a great win. Obviously USC would've been a great win, but it didn't work out for us."
On which loss was the hardest to take.
"USC, for sure…coming that close, but we didn't do what we needed to do to win that game. There's no room for excuses. They're a great team and made the plays when they needed to. We just need to do that this year. That was definitely a bitter loss and one I'll remember and learn from."
On Coach Latina and how hard he works his players.
"He's a real tough coach. He's got a little humor behind him and a little sarcasm behind him, which makes it kind of fun, but when it comes down to it, he's a tough guy. He wants you to be perfect. Even if you make the perfect block, if your hands are wrong, he's going to yell at you. He doesn't care if you made the block and the guy ran for 50 yards because of your block, he's a perfectionist and he wants all of us to play exactly that way. It's only to make us better. He always says he's going to get it out of us on the field or afterwards, it's up to us to decide."