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By Raj Sagar, Athletics Media Relations

It is called the Draddy Award.

While it may not be as well known as the Heisman Trophy, Lombardi Award or Outland Trophy, it is one of college football’s most distinguished honors. The Draddy Award is presented each year by the National Football Foundation to the nation’s top player for combined academic success, football performance and exemplary community leadership. The award includes a $25,000 postgraduate scholarship.

Virginia senior tight end Tom Santi is one of the top candidates for this year’s honor. For him, balancing academics and athletics has come natural in college.

Santi spent his high school years at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, Tenn. It was there he learned the importance of balancing athletics and academics. Instead of going to a public school, Santi attended the small, all-boys, private school, where the academic standards were set very high. The average SAT score at Montgomery Bell, which has approximately 700 students, is 28 percent above the national average.

“You really had to work hard in school there,” Santi said. “It wasn’t just come to school and hang out. That made the transition to college a lot easier because that gave me the idea of being able to budget some time and get everything on my plate done. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to go to a school like that.”

Academics is very important in the Santi household. His father, Dr. Michael Santi, a surgeon, and mother, Betty Ann, instilled in him a strong emphasis on schoolwork. Although they never wanted to put too much pressure on him, they taught their son that whatever he undertakes, he should do it to the best of his abilities.

“They always were on top of what I was doing,” Santi said. “They weren’t the kind of parents that made me come home and spend a set amount of time on schoolwork, but they were very involved and taught me how important it was to do well in school. Through time I was able to manage time on my own. I became pretty good at doing what I needed to get done. Any time I came home with a good report card, they told me how important that was, but at the same time if I was ever struggling and needed a little extra help, they were there to give it to me.”

Most students would be proud to say that they went to Montgomery Bell Academy, as it was an achievement in itself. Santi however, wanted more. In addition to being a standout football and baseball player (Santi hit .345 while playing first base and center field), he also was able to excel in the classroom. He earned the highest academic honors, making the Headmaster’s List three times. He was also a National Latin Scholar and on the National Honor Society.

Being a two-sport student athlete taught Santi how to be efficient with time.

“I was more of the come home from school and throw the football kind of guy, but at the same time I knew I had to get all my work done,” Santi said. “My parents emphasized doing well in school, and because they said it was important, I knew it was something I had to do well in. For me it’s always been that I wanted to be successful in whatever I was doing. Any goal I have, I want to achieve it to the fullest of my capabilities. I don’t want to do anything half-way.”

Santi had an illustrious career at MBA, culminating in two state championships and being named a SuperPrep All-American. During his tenure, he caught 78 passes for 1,095 yards and 12 touchdowns. Even as a tight end, which does not often get used for its offensive playmaking ability, Santi was an integral member of a state championship team his junior year in which he caught 46 passes for 655 yards and eight touchdowns.

From Montgomery Bell, Santi then stepped up to the next level, both athletically and academically. By choosing Virginia, Santi knew he was going to have to make a commitment to education as well as to football.

When he arrived on Grounds, Santi was more worried about adjusting to the football aspect of school. Luckily for him, he had someone ahead of him to learn from who had a little bit of success at the position. Heath Miller, now a standout tight end for the Pittsburgh Steelers, played a vital role in the development of Santi’s game.

“I tried to soak up as much as I could from being around Heath,” Santi said. “The way he practiced, the way he played, everything he did was something I tried to emulate. He was someone who always went 100 percent and was always trying to get better. Heath is not only a great football player, but also a great guy. Being able to learn from someone who had through what I had, and been successful was an opportunity of which I took full advantage. I still talk to him from time to time, and he always has good advice for me.”

Santi’s relationship with tight ends coach Bob Price also has been instrumental to his success. Last year Santi had 29 receptions for 253 yards and a touchdown. He ranked fourth among ACC tight ends in receptions.

“Coach Price is a great guy and has made me a student of the game,” Santi said. “You can tell he’s been around the game for a long time. He is a great teacher and has a lot of insight. He sees that I don’t and is able to point them out to me and help me understand them. I appreciate his coaching style because he is not the kind of coach who is going to get in your face and yell and scream at you. He does a great job of helping the players learn the position and is able to relate to us very well.”

Entering the 2007 season, Santi as well as senior Jonathan Stupar have led the tight end unit for Virginia. With the school’s rich history at the position, Santi knows both he and Stupar will play a big role in the success of the team this season. With two great talents at the position, Virginia often tries to employ dual tight end sets to utilize both of their abilities. There are some sets in which Virginia has to use only Santi or Stupar, however.

“I’ve never looked at it as a competition between us,” Santi said. “There is a playful competition in which we push each other, but you won’t find any other guys that root for each other harder. We learn from each other’s mistakes and we improve together. We don’t look at it as if he caught a pass and I didn’t. We look at it as we caught a pass. We’re a tight end unit the more we can do to help the team as a whole, the better.”

“On the football field we learn a lot from each other,” Stupar said. “We run a lot of double tight end plays where we are both in the game. We’re such great friends and it’s really not like a battling for time thing. It’s so nice to have somebody out there at your position that is going to talk to you and help you out on every play and be there for you. I couldn’t ask for much else.”

Academically Santi has his sights set on a number of accolades that would truly set him apart. Already a member of the Dean’s List a number of times as well as being named to the 2006 All-ACC Academic Football Team, he is now a candidate for Academic All-America honors and the Draddy Award.

“Either of those would be a tremendous honor and are definitely goals for me,” Santi said. “When you work hard at something, it is always good to receive any type of reward or recognition for it.”

In addition to Virginia’s playbook, “Catcher in the Rye,” and “In the Company of Heroes” are favorite reads of Santi’s.

“I enjoy reading,” Santi said. “It’s hard for me to pick just one favorite book, and I read because it’s a good way to relax. There is always something to learn from a good book.”

And learning, be it on the football field or an academic setting, is something Santi has mastered.

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