College football: Gophers’ big-time kicker getting noticed — at least on the field
By Marcus R. FullerSt. Paul Pioneer Press MINNEAPOLIS -- Cameron Botticelli was walking home after the game Saturday when he saw someone bump into his Gophers teammate Ryan Santoso on the sidewalk. "He said, 'Hey, man, watch where you're going,' ...
By Marcus R. Fuller
St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS - Cameron Botticelli was walking home after the game Saturday when he saw someone bump into his Gophers teammate Ryan Santoso on the sidewalk.
“He said, ‘Hey, man, watch where you’re going,’ “ the senior defensive tackle said about the response from a fan. “He (Santoso) was just in regular street clothes. No one knew that was the kicker that had just kicked the game-winning field goal in the game they just sat and watched.”
Santoso said it was just an intoxicated guy not watching where he was going.
“It happens,” he said with a smile.
At 6-feet-6, 245 pounds, Santoso is usually easy to spot, as probably the biggest kicker you’ll see.
But now the spotlight is on the talented redshirt freshman more than ever because of his game-winning 52-yard field goal in a 39-38 win over Purdue.
Even Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder gave Santoso a shout-out in a concert at TCF Bank Stadium after the game.
“I didn’t know about that - nice,” he said. “But it’s not just me. It’s the team in general.”
Santoso has a booming leg that screams NFL potential. He wears an American flag eagle T-shirt he got from his sister everywhere because “it makes me a little different.”
But his even-keeled and humble demeanor hasn’t changed for the Gophers (6-1, 3-0), who play Saturday at Illinois (3-4, 0-3).
“He just doesn’t say a whole lot,” Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. “Lot of people forgot the Michigan game, too. He kicked in critical spots in that game.”
Santoso’s kicking coach from high school, Mike McCabe said, “No question he has NFL potential.
He’s only going to get better the next three years.”
Santoso’s game-winning field goal was the longest for the Gophers since Joel Monroe kicked a 54-yarder against Iowa in 2007.
Santoso leads all kickers in Big Ten games, having gone 6-of-6 on field-goal attempts, including a 48-yarder against Michigan in the Big House.
Kicking three field goals in front of more than 100,000 fans in his first Big Ten game might have seemed routine for the Pace, Fla., native, because he has been put in pressure situations before.
In high school, Santoso beat out 400 kickers during a Kohl’s national competition in Wisconsin to earn a spot in the Under Armour All-American game. He bested a Georgia Tech recruit in a sudden-death field-goal kicking contest.
“I actually turned away when the other guy was kicking,” Santoso said. “They give out T-shirts that said ‘Top prospect’ on it, and at first I said that was my goal. I had no idea I would (be an All-American). There were so many great guys there.”
As a sophomore at Pace High School, Santoso decided to try out for the football team once he got permission from his father, who is from Indonesia.
He knew his leg strength likely would translate from the soccer ball to the pigskin.
In Santoso’s first practice, he hit a 60-yard field goal - and later nailed one from 70 yards as a junior. Expectations grew for Santoso to earn a major college football scholarship.
Minnesota, Southern Mississippi and South Alabama made the only offers. Alabama, Auburn and Ole Miss showed interest when Santoso made the prestigious all-star game his senior year, but that would have been a walk-on opportunity at best.
“Coach Jamie Kohl got my name out there,” Santoso said. “After my first camp, I visited Auburn the next day. But they mainly wanted me as a punter.”
Kill and special-teams coach Jay Sawvel received a pleasant surprise with a gift in the form of a commitment from Santoso on Christmas Eve two years ago.
Santoso was sold on the chance to kick in the Big Ten and attend a strong academic university.
Last year, Santoso redshirted with senior Chris Hawthorne as the starter. It was a critical time in his development not only to get ready to compete for the place-kicking job the following season but also to change his body.
Losing 35 pounds with the help from the strength and conditioning staff and team nutritionist added to his confidence.
“They really helped me focus on changing my physique and getting ready for the season,” Santoso said. “(It helped) a lot of explosiveness and flexibility and just being overall healthy will help that. I want to be a football player first before a kicker.”
The Gophers recruited Santoso to play all three kicking positions, but they have the conference’s leading punter in Peter Mortell. And there’s no reason for Santoso to get too much on his plate right now, especially with all the extra attention.
“I still can’t believe it,” he said about his winning kick. “I was like, ‘Wow, that really just happened.’ You live for those moments.”