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Aztecs' Quiet Assassin : UCLA Will Again Face Todd Santos, a Quarterback With a Dual Personality

September 20, 1985|STEVE DOLAN | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Todd Santos is quiet by nature, but his job description requires a personality change at times. A quarterback occasionally has to yell at teammates, and Santos is the quarterback for San Diego State.

"I've seen him grab players and chew them out," said Brian Billick, the Aztec receivers coach and recruiting coordinator. "If anything, the players respect him for it. When he asserts himself, players say, 'Whoa.' "

This behavior is very unlike what might be called the real Todd Santos. It would seem that Santos walking into a huddle is like Clark Kent walking into a telephone booth. The difference is that Santos changes because the job demands that he change.

Wide receiver Webster Slaughter, a roommate of Santos, notices two sides to the quarterback's personality.

"If we talk in the huddle, he'll tell us to shut up," Slaughter said. "He doesn't talk too much at home."

It is probably quite consistent for a quiet man to raise his voice mainly in search of quiet.

"On the field, I have to take charge," Santos said. "Off the field, I'm a really shy and quiet person. I just don't socialize a lot. That's the way I am."

Through high school Santos called Selma, located 15 miles south of Fresno, his home. Selma has a population of 12,000, about one-third the size of San Diego State's enrollment.

In this little town, Santos became a big name. In his three-year career at Selma High School, he passed for 6,150 yards and 50 touchdowns. His best season was in 1980 when he passed for more than 2,100 yards and led his team to a 13-0 record as a junior. The numbers were not as glittering his senior year, when the team had an off year.

However, college recruiters had already taken note. Among the schools who visited Santos were UCLA, Washington, Oregon, Arizona State and Texas A&M.

However, a not-so-funny thing happened. Recruiters backed off, and none of the big schools offered a scholarship. Rich Merlo, Selma's coach, said he heard through the grapevine that people were cool on Santos because he had only played against 2-A competition.

Santos did get offers from Fresno State and Northern Arizona, but he aspired to a higher level of competition.

"I almost went to a JC," he said. "Then, about two weeks before signing day, San Diego State called and asked if I wanted to come the following spring. They offered me a full ride. I knew Coach (Doug) Scovil was real successful with quarterbacks at BYU and had coached Roger Staubach and John Brodie. I thought San Diego State would be a good place to go."

The Aztecs made an unusual deal with Santos. Though he could have attended San Diego State in the fall of 1982, coaches asked him to wait until the spring of 1983. By doing so, the Aztecs could redshirt Santos in 1983 and save his eligibility for the falls of 1984 through 1987.

BYU has a similar method of keeping players eligible for a longer period. Its players often go on Mormon missions for two years, and they do not lose eligibility while they are gone. Consequently, the Cougars are an older and more mature team.

In that same manner, Santos spent two years on the sidelines--one before he enrolled and the other as a redshirt--before he started his collegiate career.

"It was our way of trying to keep up with the Mormon mission deal," Billick said. "This was our way of getting that advantage."

After being a 1983 redshirt, Santos was at a disadvantage in the spring of 1984. His competition was Jim Plum, a first-team Parade All-American from Helix High in La Mesa. Plum, besides being a local star, also had a year's advantage on Santos since he was the back-up Aztec quarterback in 1983.

However, as spring practice progressed, it became obvious to the coaching staff that Santos had progressed the most at quarterback. Santos, who had taken the risk of sitting out 1982-83, thus earned the job as starting quarterback.

"When I came here, I just wanted to see what the competition was like," Santos said. "If things didn't work out, I could've gone home and played in JC. I felt good about my spring practice, and things have worked out well for me."

Santos, the first freshman ever to start a game at quarterback for the Aztecs, started 11 of 12 in 1984. His best game was Oct. 20 against Colorado State, completing 26 of 33 passes for 418 yards and two touchdowns.

For that freshman season, Santos completed 160 of 285 pass attempts (56.1%) for 2,063 yards and 9 touchdowns.

Already 21, an advanced age for a sophomore, Santos opened the 1985 season last week against Cal State Long Beach, and completed 16 of 23 pass attempts for 209 yards and two touchdowns as the Aztecs won, 34-14.

"I think one of the reasons he's doing so well at San Diego State is because he had a lot to prove to people," said Merlo, his high school coach. "I think he was kind of depressed and hurt by what happened when the recruiters backed off of him. There were a lot of expectations for him, especially being from a small town."

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