Change has been a constant in Tommy Santiago’s football career.
His work ethic, grit and team-first attitude have stayed the same, according to his new coach.
“He’s like the consummate player,” William Tennent coach Rich Clemens said of Santiago. “He has always made his situation better. He has never made it worse.
“He just does what he’s supposed to do. It doesn’t matter what’s happening around him. He locks in and does his job.”
The 6-foot, 200-pound Santiago, a running back and linebacker, has returned for his second stint at William Tennent after spending his freshman year at Archbishop Ryan and his junior year at Archbishop Wood.
Santiago said he is determined to make an impact at William Tennent, where he played as a sophomore in 2017. The Panthers were winless in 2017 and 2018 and went 2-8 last season.
On Friday night, Santiago ran for 202 yards and two touchdowns as William Tennent evened its record at 1-1 with a 49-20 victory over Academy of Palumbo.
“Everyone is trying to change the culture,” Santiago said. “We’re all on the same page. I want everyone to have the same attitude as me so we can bring a new culture to Tennent football and be a winning team.”
At Archbishop Wood last season, Santiago was a workhorse running back and part of a perennial powerhouse program. He ran for 1,695 yards and 16 touchdowns as the Vikings reached the PIAA Class 5A semifinals before falling to Penn Hills.
Earlier this summer, Santiago opted to transfer back to William Tennent. He said he withdrew from Archbishop Wood so that his younger brother Nicco, a standout guard on the basketball team, could stay at the school in Warminster.
Santiago said with father Milt on disability and awaiting a kidney transplant, the family couldn’t afford to send two children to private school.
“The tuition went up, and that made it really hard on my mom [Brenda],” Santiago said. “I didn’t want to let my brother down. I knew he wanted to stay there. That’s his dream.”
He said it was a difficult decision to leave Archbishop Wood, which has won five state titles since 2011 and is off to a 2-0 start this season.
“Those are my brothers, too,” Santiago said of Archbishop Wood players.
Archbishop Wood coach Kyle Adkins said he wished Santiago and his family “the best moving forward.”
Santiago has drawn recruiting interest from programs such as Temple and Wake Forest as well as NCAA Division II power West Chester. But he has yet to receive any offers, which baffles Clemens.
“After he leaves [Archbishop Wood] for his little brother to stay, there shouldn’t be a college coach in this country that doesn’t want him on his team,” Clemens said.
Santiago’s older brother, Milt Jr., is a professional boxer. Tommy Santiago, who trains regularly at Danny Garcia’s gym in Philadelphia during football off-seasons, plans to turn pro this winter.
“I’ve been boxing my whole life,” Santiago said. “Me and my older brother, we just fell in love with it.”
Although he plans to spend time in the ring in the future, Santiago said his dream is to play college football. He’s frustrated by a lack of offers but determined to make an impression on recruiters this season.
“It’s frustrating to me because people I see getting so many offers, I played against them or I played with them, and I feel I have the same talent as them or more,” Santiago said. “But I just use that as motivation. I use that as fuel.”
Clemens said Santiago’s can-do pep, combined with his talent and toughness, has helped the second-year head coach and his assistants in their efforts to revitalize the program.
“You always wonder when you bring in a guy, ‘Is he going to want the ball? Is he going to be a problem?’ ” Clemens said. “But he’s been nothing but positive.