Since leaving NIU, Santacaterina has been winning big

  • Southeast Missouri State quarterback Daniel Santacaterina gets off a pass just before Missouri lineman Jordan Elliott arrives during their September game in Columbia, Mo. Santacaterina leads his team in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs Saturday.

    Southeast Missouri State quarterback Daniel Santacaterina gets off a pass just before Missouri lineman Jordan Elliott arrives during their September game in Columbia, Mo. Santacaterina leads his team in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs Saturday. Associated Press

  • Southeast Missouri State and Daniel Santacaterina go for playoff victory No. 2 at home Saturday against Illinois State.

    Southeast Missouri State and Daniel Santacaterina go for playoff victory No. 2 at home Saturday against Illinois State. Associated Press

  • Daniel Santacaterina was at quarterback for Northern Illinois University when the Huskies stunned Nebraska 21-17 in September 2017.

    Daniel Santacaterina was at quarterback for Northern Illinois University when the Huskies stunned Nebraska 21-17 in September 2017. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 11/29/2019 12:24 PM

In a span of 21 days, Daniel Santacaterina went from engineering one of the greatest wins in Northern Illinois football history to banished to the bench.

This happened in 2017. The former Geneva High School star started and went the distance at quarterback in NIU's 21-17 victory in front of 89,000 stunned fans at Nebraska.

 

Two games and three weeks later, he was replaced during a game at Kent State and redshirt freshman Marcus Childers was given the job.

Fair or unfair, there was nothing Santacaterina could do except make the most of what came next. He transferred to Southeast Missouri State and led that team to the two most successful seasons in program history. The Redhawks (9-3) host Illinois State (8-4) in an FCS playoff game at 1 p.m. Saturday (ESPN3) in Cape Girardeau, Mo.

"It meant everything," SEMO coach Tom Matukewicz said of adding Santacaterina as a transfer. "He's going to leave here in the record books. He just got the record for the most touchdown passes in school history.

"Really, his legacy is just his toughness and being able to win a (Ohio Valley) conference championship his senior year. Obviously the quarterback is a really big position, not only on the field, but also off the field. He's as good a leader and teammate as I've been around."

That's quite a comeback story. Rejection is always difficult, especially when it seems like things are going well.

"I think I was kind of looked at as a bridge guy," Santacaterina said of his NIU career. "I don't think they expected me to take the reigns before that season. They wanted to put the young guy in who would fit the offense better, skillset-wise."

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Santacaterina is a 6-foot-1 pocket passer who doesn't pull it down and run very often. So he doesn't fit perfectly into either of the common quarterback roles, but ultimately, it's team success that matters most.

"I think I just didn't fit the mold of what they'd been used to when they were successful," he said. "They had Jordan Lynch (the starter from 2012-13), obviously, who was amazing. I'm not that type of player."

As it turned out, there weren't many transfer options. Santacaterina needed surgery for a torn labrum and not many schools wanted to take a chance on a full recovery. But he had one important family connection that paid off.

Matukewicz is a former linebackers coach at NIU and one of his success stories was Santacaterina's older brother Michael. The Santacaterina family is nothing but high-level athletes. In addition to Michael, who's about four years older, Daniel has three sisters who played college soccer -- Jackie at Illinois and later the Chicago Red Stars, Bri at DePaul, and Jenni, currently a junior at Ohio.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Southeast Missouri isn't well known for football, and for good reason. Prior to Santacaterina's arrival, the school had recorded three winning seasons in 27 years since it became an FCS program in 1991, with one playoff appearance.

Last November, Santacaterina led the Redhawks to their first playoff victory. He threw 3 touchdowns passes in a 28-14 win over Stony Brook.

"It was a dream come true," he said. "Everything that we set out to do as a team the last two years, everything that I personally set out to do, we've accomplished. It was just an incredible transformation of the program the last two years."

SEMO was overmatched in its second-round game at Weber State. But it was one of the last 16 teams standing and can repeat the accomplishment with a win Saturday.

Santacaterina's next loss will mark the end of his college career. When it comes to making the best of rough circumstances, it's hard to top his story.

"It's just been an incredible experience, especially that playoff win last year," he said. "It's a really close-knit team. It's a great environment, right on the Mississippi River. It's great football, great coaches. Everything about it has been A-plus."

• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

Go to comments: 0 posted
 
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.