BOLINGBROOK – It’s quite understandable why Andrew Santiago was a little stunned by the recognition that he received Wednesday.
The Bolingbrook senior, who was a member of the Raiders football program and played defensive lineman this past season, received a special honor that he was able to share with family, friends, teammates, teachers and coaches at the school’s auditorium.
Representatives from the U.S. Army and Pro Football Hall of Fame were on hand to recognize Santiago as one of the 25 finalists nationwide for the Award for Excellence program, which is sponsored by both organizations.
One of the most influential tight ends in NFL history, 1995 Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow, gave a short speech about surrounding yourself with good people and then recognized Santiago for his accomplishments that made him one of 25 who are up for the award.
“I just want to thank everyone who have always supported me and to the U.S. Army and Pro Football Hall of Fame for coming to Bolingbrook; it’s an extreme honor,” Santiago said. “And Kellen Winslow is a great guy, one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, and a great mentor.
“It’s always been student-first in my family, and I’ve always been pushed to get good grades. All of the other stuff on the side is just for my enjoyment. I’ve been playing since I was a young kid and always have enjoyed the game. When I first came into high school, I didn’t think that I was going to play since Bolingbrook has always had one of the best programs in the state. But I’ve played, and here I am today, and I am extremely blessed for it.”
A member of the National Honor Society, Santiago intends to continue his education and football career at Beloit College in Wisconsin, where he hopes to major in economics.
Seniors, juniors and sophomores from throughout the country were eligible for the award based on their athletic, academic and civic achievements.
Santiago said he’s proud to represent his community and school by being considered for this award.
“I was born and raised in Bolingbrook, and I love all of these people to death – my family, teammates, friends, coaches and teachers,” Santiago said. “They have always supported me throughout everything, and I’m extremely grateful. It feels like I won it for them. I’ve always been surrounded by friends and family who supported me and my football and academic career, and I’m extremely grateful. I need them in my life to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Santiago was nominated for the award by mathematics teacher Elizabeth Cowie.
“I had Andrew in honors algebra as a freshman and have him now in pre-calculus as a senior, and he’s just one of those kids that makes a huge impact on my life as a teacher,” Cowie said. “To see him not only be able to balance his academics and extracurriculars and to excel at everything, is so worth it for me to see him get recognized with such a huge honor.”
Veteran Raiders coach John Ivlow was thrilled to see Santiago recognized.
“This is very special, considering that there’s only 25 guys in the whole United States of America that are nominated for this,” Ivlow said. “He understands the magnitude of this, and we’re fortunate that he’s from our school. There was no shortage of playing time for him, and that’s because he was a physical, hardworking kid. He was a game captain and a starter. He did a lot of good things for us, and this was a nice way to cap off his high school career.”
Raiders athletic director Rob Rose was excited to see one of his school’s athletes honored.
“When I think of our students, Andrew is the cream of the crop when it comes to just great kids who know how to get work done,” Rose said. “He’s worked his butt off in the classroom, and I’ve seen him on the field; he’s just a tough kid and a hardworker who’s humble and a real person. That’s something that attracts other people to him, especially his teammates. This honor is a testament to his parents, coaches and teachers.”
With a family that included military people and playing throughout his career in San Diego, where the military has such a big presence, Winslow is thrilled to represent the Pro Football Hall of Fame in association with the U.S. Army to recognize deserving student-athletes.
“As we get older, we look back and think that things are not as great as they used to be and wonder where out next leaders are coming from,” Winslow said. “But when you get a chance to come to a school like this, and see what the teachers and coaches are doing and see that they’re turning out young men like Andrew, it gives you a lot of hope for the future.”