Jonathan Santaga can play a variety of roles on the football field.
The Green Bay Notre Dame senior parlayed his versatility into an opportunity to earn one at the University of Minnesota.
“I’m so incredibly excited,” said Santaga, who committed to the Big Ten school as a preferred walk-on and will join the program as an athlete.
“I have no idea where I’ll end up. It’s completely up to them. I’m just going to try to work as hard as I can. … Wherever I end up, I know I’m going to enjoy it. That’s all that matters.”
Santaga mattered a lot to Notre Dame the last two years during its run to back-to-back WIAA Division 3 state championship games.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder played receiver and defensive back as a junior, catching the game-winning touchdown pass from Robert Petitjean in the D3 state championship game in 2015.
As a senior, Santaga took over the reins at quarterback, completing 63.1 percent of his passes for 1,999 yards, 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also rushed for 397 yards and six touchdowns in earning second-team all-Fox River Classic Conference honors.
However, it was his nifty footwork that initially caught the attention of college recruiters when he sent his film out to every NCAA Division I program in the country.
Santaga put both of his feet to work in serving as the Tritons’ kicker and earned all-state recognition as a punter, averaging 38.8 yards per punt and placing six attempts inside the 20-yard line as a senior.
“I put in the email that I could punt with my left and kick with my right,” said Santaga, who was contacted by a few Big Ten schools and an SEC team. “Everybody was kind of curious about that initially and I told them about the whole soccer background.”
The dazzling runs and speed Santaga has shown on the football field has a lot to do with his time spent on the soccer pitch.
Santaga grew up playing soccer and continued with the sport at the club level during spring in high school.
Playing soccer was a natural choice for Santaga, who has strong bloodlines in the sport. His paternal grandfather, Aldo, was the men’s soccer coach at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay from 1978-1991 and the college’s soccer stadium is named after him.
Santaga’s father, Scott, and uncle, Greg, played soccer at UWGB, while his cousin, Anthony, played there as well before finishing his collegiate career at Hartford.
“I’m the only person in my family to ever play football,” said Santaga, who also played basketball for Notre Dame. “My grandpa was the one that told me to play football. I always say it was because he must have thought I was a bad soccer player and didn’t want me to disgrace the name.”
Santaga is hoping to make a name for himself as a walk-on with the Golden Gophers.
After initially being told Minnesota’s preferred walk-on spots were filled, Santaga sent out his film again when P.J. Fleck was hired as the team’s new coach in January.
Santaga also reached out to Peter Mortell, a Notre Dame alum and arguably the best punter in Minnesota’s history, to assure his film would at least get seen by one of the coaches there.
“I just wanted to go as far as I could,” said Santaga, who will pursue pre-medical studies. “I want to work really hard to see if I can go play at that level.
“To be honest, after that last game and not winning the (state) championship, I just knew I had to keep playing. I wanted to keep playing. There were a lot of emails being sent out. But I feel really, really blessed to get some responses and to be able to play at a Big Ten school in Minnesota. I have never dreamed of anything like this. I was hoping to play smaller, at DIII or something like that, and this opportunity presented itself. I’m so grateful.”