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November 2, 2011When the Black Knights step onto the field Saturday against academy rival Air Force, Army's freshman backup quarterback knows that at some point in the contest, he will hear Coach Rich Ellerson's voice bellow, "Santiago .... Angel Santiago, get in there."
"There" of course is under center where the rookie signal caller from Fontana (Calif.) has made tremendous strides from time Army started practice this summer to present date.
"I would say that my confidence level is a lot higher than is was at camp," Santiago shared Tuesday with GoBlackKnights.com. "Coming in you know, I was just coming off of a year of the prep school being under center. I was still use to it, but I wanted to be more comfortable underneath the center. So I say that I am a lot more comfortable now running the offense."
The plus side for Santiago is that he may very well be in there with his main man and fellow prepster, Ryan Powis starting at center, along with Larry Dixon who is now starting at fullback.
"Coming up here with Powis fits very well knowing how he snaps and knowing how quick he gets off the ball so it's definitely a plus having a center that I'm use to and comfortable with," acknowledges Santiago.
"As for Larry, I can say we compliment each other well. Larry is a great athlete, very explosive so you know he will break off for one long run here and the defense keys on him and that just opens up things for me."
But even with having familiar faces in the huddle, the athletic quarterback will be the first to admit that his college football debut wasn't as comforting as it may have appeared to the fans watching the game.
"When I first took the field, I had the butterflies in my stomach and said to myself, oh shoot this is happening," declares the 5-foot-11, 195 pound quarterback. "Then I took a step back, took a deep breath and just remembered that this is the same game I've been playing the past 11-12 years and once I did that, it help me calm down."
"When I first stepped onto the field, I was mainly focused on doing the best I can to help the team out the best as possible," he adds. Coach told me I was going to get my shot and I wanted to make sure I made the most of it."
For Santiago, most of what he has seen defensively has been against his teammates during practice. With an Army team that is typically undersized, what did the frosh signal caller think when looked across the line of scrimmage and witnessed the disparity in size for the very first time?
"Being on the field .... the first initial look is like wow, these guys are really big." he said. It was definitely different, because in practice you are trying to save our guys, you aren't trying to get anybody hurt. So therefore they aren't going as hard as the defense of the other team would. Everybody knows that we are a little bit undersized but we make up for it with our speed and we are great Division I athletes as well.."
With Max Jenkins named the starter against Air Force and Trent Steelman remaining a question mark, Santiago knows that he is just one coach's bellow away from getting the call and his preparation reflects that.
I have to take each snap as if it's a game snap," explains Santiago on this week's practice routine. "I need to go through each progression, go through each read, make each call as if I would make it in the game. I think if you practice how you will play in the game, it will carry over in the game and you're going to be a lot more confident and comfortable on Saturday.
For the first time in his career, Santiago and his fellow freshmen teammates will get a first hand taste of what it is to go head to head against an academy opponent, especially in the confines of Falcon Stadium in front of 46,692 fans.
"It's definitely going to be a great atmosphere ... it's a big time game and we had a little bit of a rivalry going on at the prep school level," shares Santiago. "But now it's even bigger and I would say as a team and everybody comes out with the mindset that we can not be stopped, then I think we are going to win."