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Dan Santucci: Santucci brings defensive mentality to O-line

Kyle Cassily | Friday, November 17, 2006

Fifth-year offensive lineman Dan Santucci has had to switch to a different side of the ball and swap positions mid-game, but the one thing that has remained constant for the starting right guard has been his teammates and his ability to adjust to change.

In spring practice before his third year at Notre Dame, Santucci was asked by former Irish coach Tyrone Willingham’s staff to switch from the defensive line to the inside of the offensive line. The proposition came after he played in all 12 games his sophomore season on special teams and made a brief appearance against Stanford at defensive tackle, earning his first monogram.

“At first it was a little bit of disappointment, because I’m sitting there playing D-line and all of a sudden I get moved,” Santucci said. “But when they asked me, and I went home and thought about it, that night – I swear to God – I was just really excited.”

He carried that excitement over onto the practice field that spring and made a big enough impression to earn a recurring spot in the trenches in 2004. He played in 11 games at guard – including 45 special team appearances – and made his first start, at left guard, against Oregon State in the Insight Bowl.

The hardest part of the change, Santucci said, was sitting back on pass protection, when he had been accustomed to playing aggressive with the defensive pass rush. He already knew, however, how to block for the rush after playing tight end in high school.

“It was about after the sixth or seventh game, at Navy of my junior year, I felt like after that game – I played almost all half – and I felt comfortable starting,” Santucci said of the position change. “I just got more and more comfortable as the year went on, just worked hard at it and tried to get better.”

And Santucci, a Chicago native, knew a little bit about working at things to get better before he enrolled at Notre Dame. During his junior year at St. Patrick High School on the city’s north side, his team went 2-7. But the following season, he led the Shamrocks to a 7-4 record and a playoff win – the school’s first since 1988.

The summer prior to that season in 2001, Santucci turned down scholarship offers from Nebraska, Purdue and Northwestern to accept a scholarship from then-Irish defensive line coach Greg Mattison – the weekend after Mattison offered it.

“I got offered a scholarship and being from Chicago, going to a Catholic school and watching Notre Dame my whole life – it was a pretty easy decision,” Santucci said.

Santucci had only a season to settle into his new role as an offensive lineman, before his role was rattled yet again with the entrance of Charlie Weis in 2005.

Weis instituted a four-man rotation between the two guard positions and center, rotating Santucci with current seniors John Sullivan and Bob Morton and current New England Patriot Dan Stevenson. He accepted the change in stride, and despite his desire to play every down, he looked on the positive aspects of it – mainly a chance to take a breather and to gain trust in his fellow linemen.

“Everyone went with it and everyone was excited about it,” Santucci said. “I think it made us closer together knowing that whoever is in there, you could trust them at that position.”

And that trust carries over well past the sidelines of Cartier Field and the locker rooms of the Gug for Santucci, Sullivan, Morton, senior Ryan Harris and the man they are tasked to protect.

“We’re all tight, we go out to eat every Thursday night at Bruno’s Italian,” Santucci said. “We go eat there as a group, we sit there and watch the Thursday night game, half of it – Brady [Quinn] goes. We hang out other times, watching Monday Night Football, things like that.”

Santucci said his favorite moments in college will always be the sight of all the offensive linemen rushing into the end zone every time they score and mobbing the receiver or running back in celebration of a solid drive up field.

“The main thing for me is playing with the guys, my friends and stuff like that, that I made here,” he said. “The tight senior class that we had, being a big veteran class, just being able to go out there everyday and have fun and play with them, are all memories that I’ll take with me.”

Santucci will put aside the marketing degree he already earned from the Mendoza College of Business and pursue football into the professional ranks after the season ends. But for the time being he is focused only on Army and his last run down the tunnel into Notre Dame Stadium.

“I think before the game I’m going to be focused on winning the game and at the task at hand,” Santucci said. “But I think after the game, it’s going to be a little bit of a different experience. I really don’t know how to say it now before I experience it, but it’ll definitely be a special day – something I’ll remember the rest of my life.”