Dan Santucci (50) along with teammates Ryan Harris (68) and Mark LeVoir (73) perform as precision unit to hold off the Michigan State pass rush in the September 11 game at Notre Dame Stadium.

Paving The Way

Oct. 20, 2005

By Katie Stuhldreher

So far this season, there’s been lots of talk about Irish quarterback Brady Quinn, including his Heisman hopes. But you know what they say: behind every successful quarterback — or rather, in front of him — is a solid offensive line. In only his second season on the offensive side of the ball, senior offensive lineman Dan Santucci has become one of the crucial but often unsung heroes of the new, unstoppable Charlie Weis offense.

Santucci was recruited to play for the Irish in 2002 as a defensive tackle, but in spring training of 2004, he moved to fill a gap in the offensive line, transporting his defensive mindset across the line of scrimmage.

“For me it was an easy transition just because I played some offensive line in high school and I just wanted to bring the defensive mentality to the offensive line,” says Santucci.

“That mentality and developing my techniques through coaching and watching the other O linemen really made a difference. I just wanted to help our team.”

Although the shift to the offensive side of the ball was initially challenging for Sanctucci, he caught on quickly and now says that he enjoys playing offense even more than defense.

After making the switch last season, former Irish offensive line coach, John McDonell, told Irish Eyes, “He came over with a lot of naturalness for the position. We’ve kind of showed him how to do things and the technique, and he got the hang of it really quick. He just kind of took it and ran with it.”

Santucci’s mindset in playing on the offensive side of the ball really stems from his knowledge of the defensive mindset — the mindset of his new opponents.

“The one thing that helps is that you can keep that aggressive mentality out there and I can realize the other guys’ stunts. I pick up on things and kind of know what they’re going to do,” says Santucci.

Irish coaches and players agree that Santucci’s tough mentality and willingness to try new things also contribute to his new leadership role in an unfamiliar position.

Teammate Bob Morton pointed out Santucci’s enthusiasm during spring practice as something that distinguished him as an able candidate for a starting position on the offensive line — a critical element of the new Charlie Weis offense.

Santucci says, “I try my best to lead by example. That’s how I lead — just go out there and try to do things right, give 100 percent. I think that’s how people learn best — by watching others.”

So far this season, Santucci has filled that starting role in every game. And, no opponent has been able to contain the Irish offense effectively. Coincidence?

“My personal goal is just to contribute to the offense. I go out there and play hard every play — just do what I can to help the team. And my team goal is to win every game and win a national championship. That’s definitely our team’s goal.”

The 6-4, 290-pound lineman credits his linemates for some of the success he’s had this season. Their help and guidance has gone a long way in his development since last year.

“All the guys helped me, but I would say that Dan Stevenson, Bob Morton, and John Sullivan all really showed me a lot because they’re more inside players. I just learned from them. They were great teachers of the game when I needed them to be. And now I just love going out there and being on the field together with them,” says Santucci.

In fact, the Irish offensive line has formed a brotherhood of sorts on and off the field based on camaraderie, respect, and good food.

“We go out for dinner every Thursday night. We go out to an Italian restaurant and go to a buffet — just the O line,” says Santucci.

“It’s nice to be able to put football aside for a second and talk about other things — just be normal friends, talk about school and other things. We even go fishing together some weekends and stuff like that.”

The offensive lines closeness on the field may help explain the rock-solid wall they form together while on the field.

“You want to play your hardest for the guy next to you and by being better friends, you’re going to have that mentality,” explains Santucci.

“I think being closer to the guys you play with, you’ll have that mentality of always wanting to do your best for that person. Always hanging out outside of football and getting to know each other better is a good thing and that’s what we have this year.”

In addition to close bonding with teammates, Weis brought a new intensity to the offensive line, since it’s one of the most vital positions on the offensive side of the ball. Every head coach relies on consistent blocking from the line whether it’s protecting the quarterback or creating gaps for the running game.

“[Coach Weis] brought an aggressive, tough, winning attitude to this program. He’s made this team very confident. We go out there expecting to win every Saturday,” says Santucci.

“For the O-line, he hired a great coaching staff, and that’s really contributed to our success. Coach Latina has the same mentality as Coach Weis, and I think we have a tough, mentally sound line.”

And, through the first five games of the season, their efforts have not gone unnoticed. At the Michigan State pep rally on campus, Quinn began his speech by asking the offensive linemen to stand so that they could be recognized for their hard work and contribution to the Irish offense

Yet, Santucci considers all the hard work just another part of the job.

“We just have to go out there and dominate the line of scrimmage and basically keep people off of Brady (Quinn) and open holes for Darius (Walker). I mean, that’s our job, that’s what we do every week. If we do that, we’ll beat teams like USC,” says Santucci.

The hard-working guard also takes his work ethic into the classroom where he is currently working to earn his degree in marketing in the Mendoza College of Business.

“That’s probably one of the main reasons I came to Notre Dame,” says Santucci.

“Academics have always been very important to me and they always will be. I try to do my best in school. I know that one day football is going to end and I’m going to have to rely on my degree. What I’ve done here and learned here will help me get through the rest of my life.”

Although he’s a senior, Santucci will still be a vital part of the Irish O line next year. “My plans are to come back here. I’ll be a fifth-year senior then and I’ll be a leader on the O-Line. We’ll have another big year and I’ll finish school while having fun playing my last Notre Dame football season,” he says.

There’s sure to be a few people that will be happy that Santucci plans on sticking around. As long as he remains on the field, Weis, Quinn and Walker can breathe a big sigh of relief.