Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Colts draft all-around talent in TE Tom Santi

By Matt Adams

May 6, 2008

Some call it Tight End U.

No, it’s not a Hanes commercial.

It’s the University of Virginia, where head coach Al Groh has made it his mission to turn tight ends into more than guys who can block and catch the occasional ball over the middle.

One of Groh’s latest achievements: Tom Santi, the senior tight end chosen in the sixth round by the Indianapolis Colts. Part of a three-man rotation, Santi was a star in the Cavaliers’ tight end-based offense. He broke out last season, reeling in 36 passes for 418 yards and three touchdowns. The yardage and TD totals weren’t just the best among his fellow tight end teammates; they were team highs.

If you play tight end at Virginia, you must be an accomplished blocker. That’s something Santi brings to the table, something that perhaps makes him more valuable all-around than Jacob Tamme, drafted two rounds earlier. While Santi lined up at wide receiver on occasion at Virginia, he won’t stretch the field or wow you with his speed and athleticism like Tamme.

Instead, what you’ll get from Santi is a hard-nosed player who’s bright (he finished with a 3.35 GPA and was an ACC Academic All-American Selection), has tremendous size (6′4″, 248) and seems willing to do just about anything. During his freshman year, Virginia’s fullback went down with an injury. Santi played fullback for several games. He didn’t carry the ball, but contributed as a blocker and pass receiver. That means he’ll be a flexible guy for the Colts who can shift into H-back when needed and (I hope) give the team a boost in short-yardage and goaline situations.

As an example, Santi admitted last year that an injury to Virginia’s top wide receiver would likely mean an adjustment for him, a role he embraced.

“My role will change a little bit,” Santi said. “We’re also going to have some young guys to step up. We’ve got some young receivers coming in - and they’ve had a chance to run some seven-on-seven. But that will be something that’s really determined during camp to see who’s going to step up and pick up some of the slack.”

Furthermore, Santi seems happy to be with the Colts, where he’ll likely take on a decidedly Ben Utecht-like role. After being picked, he seemed overjoyed to land in Indy:

“This is such an amazing opportunity. To have the chance to play for such an elite and classy organization is an absolute dream.”

Of course, there are a few things about Santi that should be alarming to Colts fans. For example, he has (and admits to as much in his NFL Draft Q&A) the song “Toxic” by Britney Spears on his iPod. He also says the movie The Sixth Sense made him sleep for a month with his lights on.

BONUS FACT: Won the James Tatum Award in 2007. The award is given annually to the top student-athlete among the nation’s football players.

EYE-POPPING COLLEGE STAT: Caught five passes for 128 yards against Minnesota in the 2005 Music City Bowl. To make it even sweeter, Santi hails from Nashville, Tennessee, where the game was played. His Cavaliers won, 34-31.

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