Former QB Ricky Santos returns to coach ‘Cats
Published: Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 03:03
In summer 2004, things were not so bright in the realm of football here in Wildcat Country. In the years leading up to that season, New Hampshire was a struggling program in the Atlantic 10 (now the CAA) that had a record of 23-33 in the previous five seasons. Sean McDonnell was starting his sixth year as the head coach and was searching for the spark that his team needed.
Ricky Santos was a redshirt freshman in 2004 and McDonnell put the ball in his hands that season as the team’s starting quarterback. Over the course of the next four years, Santos would set 19 school records and receive the Walter Payton Award in 2006, which is given to the most outstanding offensive player in FCS football. He would also lead the Wildcats to a 37-14 overall record in his four-year career. His No. 2 jersey was retired, one of the five retired by the UNH football program (including the recently retired No. 52, worn by linebacker Matt Evans).
This story does not end there, however, as it was announced on March 1 that Santos has returned to Durham as the newest of member of the UNH coaching staff. Santos has replaced Artie Asselta as the team’s wide receivers coach. Asselta left the program to return home to Louisiana to be with his family.
Santos was introduced to the team last week, according to wide receiver R.J. Harris, who said the receivers in particular are looking forward to working with the UNH legend.
“We don’t have to start from the beginning,” Harris said. “He already knows what we are all about.”
Santos’s playing career continued up through 2012 as he spent five years in pro football, but now he will be teaching the game rather than performing it.
From player to coach
Santos identifies himself as not just a football player, but also a football guy. He envisioned that someday he would be involved in the coaching side of the game.
“I’ve been playing since the age of seven,” Santos said. “I am just very passionate about the game of football.”
McDonnell and Santos spoke over the last few months about what Santos wanted to do next. When the coaching position with UNH opened up, Santos was the easy decision.
“Obviously, we know him pretty well,” McDonnell said. “To the kids, I think his presence in our program will be good.”
Santos has already begun to perform coaching duties as the team prepares for mat drills in the coming days. For the first-year coach, things are different from the other side.
“Longer hours,” Santos said, is the main difference between playing and coaching. “When you are playing, it’s ‘do your job.’ Now, you are responsible for several players knowing what to do.”
Making the playoffs has become business as usual in Wildcat Country, but it wasn’t always that way and Santos wants to remind the team of where the program has been.
“We didn’t make it my first year,” Santos said. “This team needs to work hard to continue this tradition of excellence at the University of New Hampshire.
“We aren’t just going to wake up and go to a tenth-straight playoff appearance. We are going to have to get in there every day and work at it. Workouts, spring ball, summer conditioning and then obviously in the fall.”
The players and staff all know where they want this team to go, and Santos is ready to help bring the program to reach their goals.
‘An unbelievable competitor’
Santos’ triumphs at UNH would lead most to expect he must have been a hotly sought-after recruit by at least the Northeastern region’s colleges. The Bellingham, Mass. native did receive a good amount of attention from Division I and I-AA (now the FCS) schools, but only on a verbal level.
The young quarterback answered phone call after phone call from recruiters asking if anyone had given him an offer, but no one would pull the trigger. Santos mentioned that his high school team did not have to take on very strong competition in their schedules, and perhaps this was why teams were hesitant on recruiting him.
McDonnell saw something in the kid that led him to offer Santos a chance to play in Durham.
“I saw production,” McDonnell said. “He was throwing a lot of touchdown passes and was directing the offense.
“I saw an unbelievable competitor.”
Santos also played on his high school basketball team, where McDonnell said he could see more of Santos’ ability to get his teammates motivated, despite not being the best player on the floor.
It was on the football field where Santos demonstrated his true athletic ability and McDonnell admired his desire to always improve.