Former Holy Cross Record Setting Quarterback and UNO Head Coach Sean Santos Reflects on his Football Career
By Jace LeJeune
Back in 2005, there was a hot prospect playing quarterback for Holy Cross in New Orleans named Sean Santos. Santos was only 6’0 at 185 lbs but he played the game much bigger than his size indicates. With all the great quarterbacks that played in the always strong Catholic league in New Orleans, it is Santos who is the all time passing leader at the school. Santos has also had a great coaching career as well and has a very illustrious football career in the state of Louisiana. For Santos, however, he remembers how he got involved with the game of football for the very first time.
“At an early age, I played park ball,” Santos said. “When I was growing up, kids were always active as opposed to now when kids stay indoors with the technology we have now a days. Back then, everybody played sports and were active. I found out at six years old that I want to play football and from that point on, that is what I continued to do.”
Also, at an early age, Santos’ father was a member of the U.S. Military and was a retired colonel. Santos was originally from Metairie and moved to a couple of stops before moving to Louisiana in Chalmette for high school.
“The moving wasn’t hard for me at all since it was only two moves,” Santos said. “From when I was three to when I was thirteen, we lived in Arabie and then before high school, I moved to Chalmette so it was not one of those situations that we didn’t move every single year or so.”
Even though Santos’ father was very discipline as a retired military colonel, his father had a huge influence on him to play the game of football.
“He would always have time for me to either coach me when I was playing park ball and he would always have time for me to play pitch and catch in the back yard,” Santos said. “He was available so I could excel in sports throughout my high school career.”
Speaking of his high school career, Sean Santos enrolled at Holy Cross High School in New Orleans. Surprisingly, it was with the help of another New Orleans Catholic school that inspired Santos to attend Holy Cross High School.
“When I was in fourth grade in 1996, my dad took me to my first Holy Cross-Jesuit game ,” Santos said. “I could remember that game going into overtime and the Holy Cross quarterback ran in for the touchdown to beat Jesuit. It was a very memorable moment for me and I was about to head into fifth grade and I could see my dad push me to go to the school that he went to and also where my grandpa went to but that moment definitely inspired me to be in a similar situation and to play in that great Holy Cross-Jesuit rivalry.
The Holy Cross and Jesuit rivalry oddly enough is going to be played this Friday. Anyway, that decision to attend Holy Cross High School proved to be the right choice not only for Sean Santos but for the football program as well. Santos started at quarterback for the Tigers for all four years. He broke all the school’s records as a sophomore and ended his prolific high school as the Catholic league’s all time leading passer with 8,355 passing yards with 77 touchdowns. With all the success he has had at the school, Santos is still humble about his past accomplishments.
“There were so many great memories like when people asked you about the records and the success, you realize that you accomplished a lot of things,” Santos said. “I immediately thank everyone that made that possible all the way from park ball to playing football for Holy Cross. The seniors, the receivers that I got to throw the football, the running backs that were in the backfield with me, and everything that it entailed to reach those accomplishments is not so much an individual accolade but so much a team type of accomplishment. Overall, my experience playing for four years ,which is really rare at that level, I had an opportunity to play with so many guys as a freshman opposed if I played as a junior or a senior. Playing with every one of my teammates is something that I would always remember and cherish.”
His success on the field led to a lot of attention from D-I colleges including Alabama, Kentucky, LSU, Miami, and Texas Tech. Santos loved every minute of the recruiting process.
“I had the opportunity to meet some great coaches,” Santos said. “Many are still coaching today at the highest level such as Jimbo Fisher (current Florida State head coach), Nick Saban (current Alabama head coach), and all of those guys. It was a pretty cool experience. I knew I was kind of limited in stature but my ability to play really sparked their interest. I also got to travel and visit schools like Duke, Northwestern (Chicago), Mississippi State, and all of these schools. I really enjoyed the process.”
Santos experienced the whole process firsthand in the mid 2000’s and over the next ten years, he believes that it has changed a lot.
“I think the kids that are involved with it now a days are so much more aware of it due to the technology now,” Santos said. “Especially with social media, the kids now know much more about what goes on during the process. Ten years ago, when I was playing, the coaches would call you on their home phone and maybe your cellphone because cellphones were just starting to come out. The communication is the main difference why recruiting has changed.”
Even though, there were a lot of D-I colleges offering the star quarterback from Holy Cross but in the end, he decided to take a different route and commit to play football for the Northwestern State Demons and it was because of a tragedy that happened.
“There were a couple of reasons why I decided to attend school there,” Santos said. “One in particular is my relationship with the coaches but the one thing that really hit home for me was that one of my former offensive linemen Chris Wadell, who was at Northwestern State, passed away on the football field due to a heart condition. I felt that was the route that God wanted me to go. Just being on that field with the circle and his initials and number on it always motivated me to go out there and to do my best. Also, being closer to home was another huge reason why I decided to attend there. I had a good relationship with the coaches and players. Going into that year, we were ranked in the top five for recruiting classes in I-AA. Also, the team won the Southland Conference the previous year so there was a lot of momentum for that year so I knew that this was going to be a great program for a long time.”
During that time, tragedy struck again. Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans which was the area that he played football and basically grew up in. It was a tough moment for Sean Santos and his family and described it as a huge wakeup call.
“I think it was a huge reality check,” Santos said. “Just being far enough away from the tragic events that were occurring made me realize that you can’t take anything for granted. A few of the guys on the team lost everything as well as myself. It was a really huge distraction. My dad was working in the Superdome during Katrina and had to follow where my mom and my younger brother were at as well as focus on teams like Kansas and Ole Miss who we had to play.”
Sean Santo’s football playing experience was not as prolific as his Holy Cross playing career but felt that the experience was something that he needed and allowed him to have the job that he has today.
“It was very humbling for me,” Santos said. “Being at Holy Cross and not necessarily being challenged at the quarterback position during my high school career and to not playing at Northwestern State is something that I had to adjust to. Overall, it made me a better person and a better coach because it allowed me to relate to the kids I coach now. I also got to learn a tremendous amount of football by watching film and breaking down defenses. That experience gave me a lot of tools to be successful as a coach.”
Coach Sean Santos has been to a lot of places throughout the state of Louisiana coaching high school football. He has been an assistant coach at East Ascension and St. Michaels before making his big break as the head coach for the University of New Orleans. For Santos, there was a lot of pressure on him to run a college football program especially it is located in the city where you were basically a star quarterback in. The transition that Santos had to make from coaching high school to college was surprising as well.
“I was the head coach at the school for one year and was actually there for two years,” Santos said. “The year before I was the offensive coordinator. The thing that was different for me from coaching high school to coaching college is the age difference. When I was coaching college players, they were basically only three years younger than me. When I was coaching at 21, it was a different dynamic because you have to show respect to the kids and expect the same in return. You also have to show how much you care and how much the program means to you. The talent level was surprising as well. A lot of kids that I coached at UNO were transfers from other schools such as TCU, LSU, Nichols State, and trying to get these guys to buy into a program was challenging but very rewarding as well. The game speed was much faster than your average high school game and adjusting to game plans for fifteen minutes and other small stuff like the hashmarks and ball placement but it was pretty fun traveling to play in places like Miami (Ohio) and Cincinnati was a pretty cool experience and something that I never forget.”
After his college football coaching career was over, Santos went back to the high school level where he was an assistant at Brother Martin High School with an old buddy of his in Lance Lacoste who was a teammate of his at Holy Cross and Northwestern State. Lacoste actually played wide receiver for Santos at Holy Cross and their relationship still continues today because of all the time that these two were together from their times at Holy Cross to coaching together at Brother Martin. Lacoste reflected on his relationship with Sean Santos which actually started at the park grounds.
“We grew up together,” Lacoste said. “I was a year younger than him but we were really good friends. When I played at Holy Cross, the quarterback and wide receiver relationship we had translated to our off the field relationship that we still have today. I had a lot of offers from a lot of schools because of Sean. He made me a better football player and I couldn’t ask for a better quarterback to play for.”
After Santos’ coached at Brother Martin, he received his current job coaching for St. Paul’s. As of right now, the Wolves are 3-1 and Santos hopes that this is the team that he stays with the longest. He loves his current job working with the kids and doesn’t believe it to be a job for him at all.
“It is such a joy to come to work everyday and it doesn’t even seem like work,” Santos said. “There is a great camaraderie between these guys and it goes a long way. I believe these kids see that and inspires them to work hard and come together as a team. Hopefully, that St. Paul’s is a place that I could coach at for a very long time.”
Sean Santos has done a lot of things that many great football legends have really never done. He started for all four seasons playing quarterback in a tough league and broke many records there. He was heavily recruited and got to play quarterback in college. Santos coached in the high school level and was even a head coach in the college level. Just to think all these great moments, records, wins, and memories all started when a six year old just wanted to play park ball!
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