“Santoro for Heisman” has been one of the loudest rally cries during the first-place football team’s surprising 2006 start. Coined by teammate Eric Vidal ’09, the phrase is plastered on posters, shouted across campus and thrown around jokingly in conversations. But this rising sophomore standout is hardly undeserving of all this positive attention this fall.

“‘Santoro for Heisman’ was started after Steve’s first interception because, at that point, it was real early in the season, and he was probably one of a handful of players to have an interception and a kick off return for a [touchdown],” Vidal said.

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Since Santoro’s fateful pick during the Yale-Cornell faceoff, the campaign has only gotten stronger.

And so has Santoro’s success.

Teammate Kirk Porter ’08 said that since the Cornell game, Santoro has had at least one big play per game, an especially impressive feat considering that Santoro, now the starting safety, came to Yale as a wide receiver and played his entire freshman year on JV. Porter said that he has been able to do this because he is a smart player, and as a result, number 14 now “knows the defense better than anyone else.”

In fact, the combination of Santoro’s adaptive skills and good timing has solidified his position in the starting lineup since the second game of the season. The two free safeties at the top of the depth chart in August were Nick Solakian ’07 and John Coombs ’08, but after the former was red-shirted and the latter was sidelined by injury, Santoro was called to the spotlight quite a bit earlier than expected.

Despite the shock of being thrown smack into the middle of the Eli background with little time to prepare, the young player has handled the challenge with maturity and confidence.

“Definitely, I was a little nervous at first, but I just realized that this is what I wanted,” Santoro said. “I have the opportunity, and I just want to do the best I can while I have it.”

This type of remark is characteristic of the humble yet competitive Eli, who exudes an easygoing attitude. Several of his teammates noted that Santoro is a quiet presence who does not speak about his athletic accomplishments, but always seems appreciative of his opportunities.

“He still tells me every now and then that he’s just happy to be a part of the team this year,” Porter said. “That pretty much sums him up as a teammate.”

But the Morse resident hardly sits back with a “happy to be here” attitude. He said he treasures the relationships he has built in his two seasons in New Haven, but for all the practice time with teammates, he wishes the Elis had even more opportunities to prove their mettle against opponents.

“You put so much time in in the off season,” he said. “And you do it all just for 10 chances a year to play in games. You want to make the most of it when you’re out there.”

Away from the Yale Bowl, though, Santoro chooses to enjoy a slightly less active lifestyle. He spends a good portion of his time parked on his couch, watching and quoting from “South Park and” — according to some teammates — “Can’t Hardly Wait.”

“[Sleeping] is a huge part of my life,” he said. “I fall asleep whenever I’m alone for too long in my room.’

And while the teammates are not quoting South Park along with Santoro, they are usually messing with him.

“Whenever a bunch of us are together and we’re joking around, Steve is always the one just laughing,” Porter said. “He takes a lot more punches than he throws when we joke around.”

Grant MacQueen ’09 said one of the most legendary demonstrations of this character trait was the so-called Vanilla Ice incident, when Santoro’s teammate Darius Dale ’09 cut the sides, but not the top, of Santoro’s hair.

“Steve looked like Vanilla Ice,” said MacQueen, who took credit for the repair.

All jokes aside, Santoro’s teammates said they respect his kindness. They said he loves to share and always makes sure people have room at the dinner table.

There is also no lack of family support for this 19-year old, who has Irish and Italian roots. Given that he grew up only an hour away from New Haven in Suffern, N.Y., his parents make a point to attend his weekly games.

With his relaxed, humble attitude and competitive edge, Santoro should have no trouble continuing his successful run as part of this thrilling 2006 campaign and in seasons to come.