SAN DIEGO — Todd Santos may be the most prolific passer in major college football history, but what happens in the next few days may have as much to do with his football future as what he accomplished in four seasons at San Diego State.
Santos leaves today for Indianapolis, where he will participate in the annual professional football scouting combine. Officials from every National Football League team will watch the action in the Hoosier Dome this weekend in what is considered one of the best opportunities for evaluating talent for this year's draft.
The numbers scouts will scrutinize will have little to do with Santos' 11,425 college career passing yards. They will want to know his time in the 40-yard dash, his bench press and his score in a written intelligence test, among other things.
The combine is the latest, and one of the most important, of the evaluations Santos will undergo before the draft April 24-25. For a quarterback from a losing team, in a conference not known for defense, these are valuable opportunities to prove his worth to the pros.
And he is looking for a better showing than his mixed performance in two all-star games.
Santos was the most valuable offensive player in the Japan Bowl in Yokohama, completing 11 of 24 passes for 195 yards, scoring one touchdown and passing for another. But a week later, he had his troubles in the first quarter of the Hula Bowl in Honolulu. He was sacked for a safety and later fumbled after being sacked a second time.
"I was in big trouble," Santos said a week ago, laughing. "I don't know what was wrong. Most of the time, I didn't have enough time to throw. And when I did have enough time, the timing (with the receivers) was off.
"The defensive backs were so good. I had to throw the ball right on time. If it wasn't right there or the receiver didn't run the right route, they would pick it off or tip it away."
Santos recovered in the third quarter to lead the West on a touchdown drive and finished 10 of 15 for 100 yards.
"I felt I helped myself in the Japan Bowl," Santos said. "In the Hula Bowl, I don't think I helped myself or hurt myself."
Part of the difference between the games, Santos said, was his familiarity with the coaches. In the Japan Bowl, he worked with Aztec Coach Denny Stolz, who was an assistant on the West team. Stolz used the offensive system Santos ran at SDSU. In the Hula Bowl, he was coached by UCLA's Terry Donahue.
But, he said, the big difference in both was the adjustment to playing on a field filled with college all-stars.
"The game was played at such a faster pace than what I was used to as a player," Santos said. "Everyone is so good. They were just flying all around."
How Santos performs as he steps up from the Western Athletic Conference to the level of college all-star and pro competition is one of the important questions that must be answered. This is not considered a strong draft for quarterbacks. Santos is one of several--including Mike Perez of San Jose State and Stan Humphries of Northeast Louisiana--who come from smaller schools and conferences and are looking to prove themselves at the combine.
These are a crucial few days for Santos and two other SDSU players--defensive backs Harold Hicks and Clarence Nunn.
"For players like Santos, the combine is very important," Mel Kiper Jr., draft analyst for ESPN, said Wednesday. "In the WAC, the defenses are pretty poor. You can ring up those numbers against those defenses, but it doesn't mean much.
"There is a question about his arm strength, and these workouts will give him a chance to measure up to the other quarterbacks."
Kiper said he rates Santos as a mid-round pick. "Anywhere from the fourth to the seventh round," Kiper said. He lists Chris Chandler of Washington as the top-rated quarterback but said even he might not be selected before the third round. Kiper said that because Santos is not considered to have a strong arm, he will not be attractive to teams that feature a long passing game.
"With Santos, you get what you see," Kiper said. "He'll take the safer route. He'll go short, underneath the coverage. He isn't a big-play type."
Despite these limitations, Kiper said, he still considers Santos a solid pro prospect. His ability to read defenses and make good decisions on the field has impressed scouts.
Santos knows that scouts consider his arm strength and mobility as possible weaknesses, and that they have been paying careful attention to his workouts and bowl-game performances. He also used the time to make his own evaluations of the senior quarterbacks.
He did not find himself in awe of the competition.
"Really," he said, "I expected a little more."