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Four Years, Four Trips to the National Playoffs
By Paul E. Kandarian

Ricky Santos '08 is probably the best quarterback you've never heard of, unless you're a UNH football fan in particular or college gridiron lover in general.

But consider just some of his accomplishments as a Wildcat: UNH all-time leader in career passing yards, touchdown passes, completions, completion percentage, attempted passes. Reigning Walter Payton Award winner. Named pre-season All-American on nearly every All-America squad there is. Invited to the 2008 Hula Bowl. Co-CAA Offensive Player of the Year in 2007.

But the best thing about Santos isn't statistical. "His is an unbelievable story. He's this great high school football player out of Bellingham, Mass., setting all sorts of passing records there," says UNH football coach Sean McDonnell '78. "We get him late in the recruiting process after having looked at a lot of kids." Santos became UNH's quarterback his freshman year after starting the season as the backup to the backup's backup. "He just takes off and runs with it," says McDonnell, "breaking every record you can think of and leading us to 37 wins in four years."

McDonnell says what makes Santos special is that he's not only a great football player, but he's a "tremendous young man, too."

It wasn't easy at first. "He didn't learn the system, he didn't study the game tapes, he didn't do the things he had to do," McDonnell says. "His first year, I told him that to be successful, you gotta stay after practice, you have to lift weights, you have to study tapes."

Santos was shaken by the harsh assessment—and by being so far down the quarterback rung. He listened and learned, packing on physical and mental muscle as he stuck close to Mike Granieri '05, UNH's quarterback in 2003-'04. "He bought into it," McDonnell says. "His work ethic prevailed. If I said he needed to improve in a certain area, he'd grind it out. He was the hardest-working kid I had in the program during his time here."

Over his four years, Santos and the 'Cats have given fans many thrilling games, and the final game this year was no exception. With a 7-5 overall, 4-4 conference record, UNH received an at-large bid to play the No. 1 seed, the University of Northern Iowa, in the national championship playoffs in November. Santos orchestrated a spectacular 10-play, 75-yard drive to give UNH the lead with just over a minute to play, but Northern Iowa scored a touchdown and won, 38-35, with only seven seconds left.

In big-memory moments, that one will loom large, Santos says, but other key memories include the rebuilding of the UNH squad his freshman year, his first start against Rutgers (a 35-24 victory) and how lucky he feels to have been part of it all.

After so much football, Santos would like to keep playing, and although an NFL career is a long shot, he just may sneak into the draft come spring. He has an agent and is exploring his options, which could include Canadian or Arena football, he says, anything to keep his feet on the field.

"I could end up in marketing, or coaching," says Santos, a sports studies major. "I'm passionate about this game," he says, "and I know a bit about it."

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