Santi Claus Coming to The Farm?

The role of the tight end is being radically rewritten in both the NFL and college games these days, with the likes of Tony Gonzalez, Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow Jr. putting up ungodly numbers and unending reels of highlights. Stanford is taking the role of the TE to another level in the Pac-10 with its new offense, and they are looking to Tom Santi for much-needed help at the position in 2004.

You are a junior tight end, and you have spent much of your formative years at the position lining up in a classic "tight" position alongside the offensive line.  You have the speed, agility and hands to be an offensive weapon in the receiving game, but you have been asked to block up front through much of your career.  Then a new offensive staff comes to power at your school, opening up the offense into a pro style.  The tight end becomes a versatile position, well beyond any of your previously conceived boundaries.  You still play some tight, but you also split out wide, go in motion and take up the role of an H-back.  A world of promise is fulfilled as you catch an amazing 46 passes for 650 yards and 10 touchdowns that junior year, earning you regional and national acclaim.

That story may sound like an extended clip from a dream sequence for Stanford redshirt junior Alex Smith, who has a chance to breakout with a new Cardinal offense this fall built around the tight end.  But instead, the above story is one that has already taken place in the past.  That was the 2002 season for Nashville, Tennessee tight end Tom Santi and the new offense installed at Montgomery Bell Academy.  Those numbers have put Santi into a very elite recruiting status among the high school Class of 2004, where he is currently ranked by TheInsiders as the #5 tight end in the nation.  Couple that ability with his 3.88 GPA and 1340 SAT, and you can understand why he is being feverishly recruited by Stanford for this class.

While the tight end is an increasing focus of the Stanford offense, and it is important to get at least one standout TE in this class to replace the huge loss of Brett Pierce, you might not realize that Stanford is in a position to lose two tight ends this coming spring.  In addition to Pierce's completed fifth year, Alex Smith is looking at taking his shot at the NFL after the season as well.  That could leave the Cardinal with just three tight ends on the entire roster, which is not even enough to run this offense in 2004.

So you have athletic ability, academic prowess and dire need.  That's all three dimensions of Stanford recruiting, and thus we are tabbing this Nashville standout "Santi Claus" - the gift Buddy Teevens most wants to see under his tree come this Christmas.

And this is a guy who is building toward an even bigger senior season at MBA, if you can believe it.  "It was hard at first," Santi says about the radical offensive transition he experienced his junior year.  "I didn't used to know a whole lot about football.  I just went play by play - go here at this time to this spot.  "But with a new coach and new offense, I learned a lot more.  Now I understand the flow of a football game, and how everything goes together.  It's not just a set of plays for me any longer; it make sense now."

But more than just an intellectual light has come on for Santi.  He also has undergone a significant physical growth that will make him an even more imposing threat this fall.  He weighed maybe 200 pounds "on a heavy day" last fall, but he is currently wearing a ripped 225 pounds on his 6'5" frame.  "My biggest goal to improve for this year is getting bigger and stronger," he says.  "I caught the ball well last year, but this year I want to be a more dominant blocker.  I'm so much bigger than I was last fall, and some of that is more motivation to lift, but some is just maturation.  I had been getting taller so fast before that my body couldn't keep up."

"My strength right now is my combination of size and speed," he declares.  "If you get someone out on the perimeter, it's tough for them to stay with me.  I'll be tough to stop this fall, especially because I have such a great quarterback.  He's also my best friend, and we work out a lot throwing the ball together.  We have pretty good chemistry on the field."

MBA will look again to be one of the top programs in Tennessee this fall, but of all their games, the headliner may be their opener against possibly the top team from Kentucky.  Santi and the high-powered MBA offense will duel with Brian Brohm and the Louisville Trinity aerial assault in less than two weeks on September 23.  Look for a lot of coaches and recruiting experts to be in attendance, and put your money on the "over" bet for the total score with your neighborhood bookie.

It is the success of his high school team that has driven Santi through the spring and summer, which means he didn't attend many of the camps or passing leagues that typify elite recruits.  "I wanted to focus on the team," he describes.  "It's a big deal to have the best senior leadership you can have for your team.  And frankly we didn't have that last year, which hurt."

One individual camp Santi managed to attend was the ill-fated Nike Camp held at Auburn.  If you followed those famous Student Sports Nike Camps throughout the spring and early summer, you know that torrential rains struck early in that camp.  Countless attendees were weighed, measured and timed, but had to clear out before any on-field instruction began.  Santi, however, was one of a quiet few who enjoyed a continuation of the camp experience.  12 quarterbacks and eight receivers were selected to move to a small indoor facility.  There they enjoyed intimate workouts with the Nike Camp staff, which put a glowing silver lining on a disappointing development in the weather.

"I felt so lucky to have the chance to do that," the Nashville star admits.  "There were a lot of incredible quarterbacks there, and I learned a lot."

If you haven't heard Santi's name much in recruiting circles, and you are wondering why we at The Bootleg didn't bring him to your attention sooner, you should understand that he only sent out his junior year film a few weeks ago.  Stanford offered immediately after watching his film, which was a sudden change in their recruitment of him.  "Very, very early they were sending me some letters, but nothing too serious.  Then it just picked up recently because of my film.  I talked with [Associate Head Coach] David Kelly, and he made a big impact on me right away.  He talks about the people you are surrounded by at Stanford, and that's very intriguing to me.  I've really enjoyed Coach Kelly - he's awesome.  And the fact that he's been a lot of places but says that Stanford is the best, that means a lot to me."

In addition to the Cardinal, Santi holds offers from Tennessee, Louisville, Iowa, Colorado, Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt and Northwestern.  He feels like he can probably select his college choice from that list, save one more school.  "I talked to [head coach] Al Groh at Virginia the other day and sent him tape right after that," the hot recruit comments.  "I like him and their program a lot, and they sounded like they were very interested."

Santi has already taken unofficial visits to Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Iowa and Georgia Tech, but he plans on taking official visits to carefully assess his options.  The first of those official trips is planned for September 20 to Iowa.  "My only fear in this process is making too early of a decision," he reveals.  "I've already seen most of Iowa, but it's still worthwhile to go there and check out the game atmosphere."

An official visit to Stanford is probable at this time, and this curve-busting student-athlete has a building affinity for the Cardinal.  "I don't know as much about Stanford right now as some of these other schools, but I love their academic and athletic reputation.  It's pretty safe to say I'm pretty interested in Stanford," he discloses.

With several options available to Santi close to home, you might wonder if distance will work against Buddy Teevens.  Parents are known to balk at the prospect of sending their "baby" boys so far from home, but at least one family member has issued a solemn decree when it comes to this college decision.  Santi's older sister is currently at Princeton, where she runs track, and the younger Santi says she lit up at the mention of Stanford.  "She really took notice when I told her Stanford was now recruiting me," he reports.  "She said 'I will kill you if you don't go to Stanford,' so I have that opinion already."

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