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September 12, 2012Texas freshman backup middle linebacker Dalton Santos is quickly becoming a cult hero for the Longhorns.
He's not just the leading tackler on Texas' kickoff coverage unit - known as the Wild Bunch - his hits are so hard they seem to be felt by everyone in the stadium.
From a physical standpoint, Santos is perfectly suited for the job. He weighs 260 pounds and runs 4.5 in the 40.
His teammates use words like crazy and wild describe him and say he has no regard for his body while blowing people up. Coaches love his passion for the game and feature his plays in film review.
Santos says it's not enough to be a big hitter. He said you have to bring a nasty attitude as well.
In fact, Santos said against New Mexico last week, he squared to hit a Lobo player near the sideline, and that player said, "Oh no," right before Santos lowered the boom.
Here's the rest of the story ...
LBs Tevin Jackson and Kendall Thompson, both members of the Wild Bunch, don't hesitate when saying the biggest hits on kickoff coverage this season have come from Santos.
"He's a wild man, really," Tevin Jackson said. "He takes the Wild Bunch to heart. I knew he was going to be on Wild Bunch as soon as he set foot on campus.
"That had him written all over it. His presence and his love of blowing people up, he likes that. He feeds off that. So I knew he was going to be on Wild Bunch."
LIKE FATHER LIKE SON: Santos said he gets his intense personality on the football field from his father.
"I just try to run down the field, make big plays and get the defense excited," Santos said. "My dad was always like that, just the mentality of being the nastiest dude you can be out there.
"Just that mentality of not only being the best player out there, but also the nastiest player out there. You want people to know that. You want to have that presence that when you step out on that field, guys are wondering, 'Is this guy about to come hit me?'
"That's the presence you want to carry around out there.
"Every play, you have to have that intention to come downhill and just blow people up.
I don't think I'm crazy. A bunch of guys call me crazy. They call me 'Crazy White Boy.' I don't know. That's the name I've got. I like it. It's pretty cool. It's different. I don't know."
VISUALIZING DESTRUCTION: I asked Santos to take us through a kickoff.
"Here's how it starts off. I'll say, 'The Wild Bunch is here.' I line up and look at the other team to see which one of these guys is going to come at me.
"Nick Rose lines up. Then I say, 'OK, Rose, it's time.' Then he kicks it, and a switch flips. You don't think, you just run. If a guy comes at you, you just go right through him, whatever it takes to get to the ball.
"Don't let one man block you. Take on three or four. Go down there and make plays. Kickoff is a nasty mentality to go make a play."
PLAYING A ROLE: When Santos committed to Texas, he vowed he would make the middle linebacker job his. He has since settled into his role on special teams.
"Every freshman has to play his role," Santos said. "It takes time to get where you want. To make the middle linebacker spot mine, that takes time. It comes with taking time in the film room, on special teams. My time will come sooner or later. If they want me to kick the ball and go hit someone, that's what I'll do.
"The Wild Bunch - those are the guys who want to run downhill and just hit people and make big plays and get everyone excited.
"We set the tone. Most of the time we are on the field first. But we set the tone. If I light someone up, Kenny Vaccaro is going to go crazy. The fans go crazy. And when the fans go crazy, we feed off of it. That alone, we take tremendous pride in it."
'OH NO': Santos was asked if guys make a certain sound when he hits them.
"When I made that tackle on the sideline in the New Mexico game, the guy I hit said, 'Oh no,'" Santos said. "Literally, I promise you that happened. I thought it was pretty neat. He literally looked at me square in the eyes and said, 'Oh no.' It was nuts. But it was cool. Then I lowered the boom on him."
Santos said his father is his biggest fan. Santos' father played college football at a small school in Missouri when Santos' mom became pregnant with Dalton. His father left school to come help provide for his new family.
"My dad played at a little school in Missouri. Some things didn't work out there, actually, my mom got pregnant with me and he came home," Santos said. "So I'm living out my dream for him. My family is feeding off of it, and it's a good feeling to know that they are living off what I'm doing, too. It's an awesome feeling.
"That guys is something else. People say my dad and I are like twins. That's my dad. That's just the way we are."
Santos has a 16-year-old brother who is 6-2 and 305 pounds and plays offensive and defensive line at Van who would also like to play at Texas, as well as a 12-year-old sister who plays volleyball.
"My sister is probably the best athlete in the family," Santos said.
LIGHTING THE FUSE: Santos has gotten a lot of love in the film room from coaches who have gone out of their way to show Santos' hits on kickoff coverage after games on Sunday.
"It's a good feeling. It's an awesome feeling, actually," Santos said. "Even though I may not be playing as much, the role I play is getting the team fired up. It's getting them ready to say, 'Santos just laid a hit on kickoff, so let's go punish people.' That's the way football players think. We've got that mentality."
Santos said K Nick Rose deserves a lot of the credit for the Wild Bunch's success.
"That kid has a leg. I sit there in practice all the time and say, that's incredible," Santos said. "While the ball's in the air, I'm getting to the second level and closing in on the ball carrier. He's giving us time to get down the field and make big plays."
Manny Diaz said this week Santos is getting closer and closer to snaps during meaningful game action. Santos loves playing for Diaz.
"He wants guys to be nasty and physical. He tells us if you don't know what gap to go through, just go somewhere 100 miles per hour and cause damage. Go blow something up," Santos said.
Diaz was key in helping land Santos in recruiting, after Santos was initially committed to Tennessee.
"I opened my recruitment back up. I looked at Arkansas, Alabama and Texas A&M again.But Malcom Brown, Johnathan Gray, Peter Jinkens. Those are the guys who brought me here.
"We clicked at the Under Armor game. Just playing with those guys. Being able to call the defense with those guys. We just clicked. It was something I didn't feel at other places. I knew if it came knocking here, I wanted to play with those dudes because those were the guys I wanted to shed blood, sweat and tears with."