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Etiwanda quarterback Santiago aims to be Army strong

The productive player makes a commitment to the military academy, which likes his athleticism and leadership skills.

January 25, 2010|Eric Sondheimer

There are teenagers who don't know what they'll be doing tomorrow, let alone next week or next year, which makes Angel Santiago's attempt to map out his life through 2020 so extraordinary.

It comes with the territory after his decision last week to play quarterback for Army. A senior at Etiwanda, Santiago didn't just commit to playing college football. He committed to a minimum five-year military career.

"I'm looking forward to serving my country as an officer and a leader," he said.

Santiago is coming off a record-breaking three-year varsity career for Etiwanda, where he passed for 6,800 yards and 57 touchdowns and rushed for 2,167 yards and scored 27 touchdowns. Add his 3.5 grade-point average, and those are statistics worthy of a big-time player.

But his 5-foot-11 size left colleges in a holding pattern, except for Army, located in West Point, N.Y. The coaches liked his athleticism and leadership skills. They thought he'd be a perfect fit, so he visited the campus last weekend, and Santiago found his home away from home.

"I fell in love with the campus, the surrounding area and the whole tradition West Point holds," he said. "Once I did more research, I ended up liking everything about it."

His friends initially had trouble comprehending how someone 18 years old was prepared to figure out what he wanted to do for the next 10 years. It didn't deter Santiago.

"Growing up, I've always had respect for the military and the people who protect us," he said. "And I always thought it would be fun but didn't actually think it would come true. I'm pretty excited."

He'll leave in July for boot camp and attend the Army prep school for a year. He knows what's awaiting him in those early weeks -- the early morning reveille, push-ups, sit-ups, chin-ups, lots of running and people shouting two inches from his face.

"I will get in the right frame of mind and look at it as the first step to my future," he said. "One thing I pride myself on, once I make a commitment, I stick with it and finish it."

He's already well versed in "yes sir, no sir" terminology.

"I've already established that in my vocabulary," he said. "That's a sign of respect I give coaches, adults, leaders."

Who knows what the future has in store for Santiago, but he's going to get to play major-college football, receive a great education and serve his country. And he already has short hair, so no worries about getting a buzz cut.

"It's going to be a challenge," he said. "I'm not saying it's going to be easy, but if I put my mind to it, I'm going to succeed."

The salary issue

It must be tough for a top public-school football coach working his butt off to hear the rumors of how certain private schools are supposedly offering six-digit salaries with light class loads.

No one's revealing whether $100,000 has become the standard pay scale, but there's no way Dean Herrington left College of the Canyons three years ago for Mission Hills Alemany or Jon Mack left Ventura College, with its lucrative state benefits package, to coach at Encino Crespi without strong compensation.

I always thought Texas high school football coaches were the ones with $100,000 salaries, but from San Juan Capistrano to West Hills, it seems that private schools have decided good football coaches are worth a pot of gold.

Influx of talent

If Van Nuys Grant basketball Coach Howard Levine sounds as if he's trying to speak Armenian, don't laugh. His school has 445 students of Armenian descent, according to the Los Angeles Unified School District. And three who moved in this past year have a chance to be top basketball players.

Gor Plavchyan is a 6-foot-7 sophomore who could be the most dominant big man in the East Valley League by the time he's a senior. He had 17 points Friday in helping Grant defeat Arleta and improve to 10-9 overall and 4-0 in league. His cousin is 6-4 Grigor Khachatryan, who has a 6-2 freshman brother, Sergy. All are enrolled in English immersion classes.

Levine's assistant coach, Asatur Bagaryan, speaks Armenian and serves as translator.

"They're nice boys," Levine said.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATSondheimer

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