A year ago, Tulane kicker Cairo Santos was completely off the radar, except to Green Wave fans who were probably concerned about how he had slipped in his sophomore season after a promising freshman one.
But now Santos is a returning consensus All-American, Tulane’s first since 1941, and atop every preseason team and ranking, including the Lou Groza Award, which he won last year after not being on the preseason watch list.
A repeat of winning the Groza would make Santos the second to do so, after Sebastian Janikowski of Florida State in 2001-2002.
Santos has even become somewhat of a celebrity in his native Brazil, where during a trip home in June, he did several interviews and showed a pro soccer team how to kick a football — albeit through palm trees because there aren’t any goalposts there.
“It was so exciting last year,” Santos said from the Mike McCabe One-on-One Kicking Camp in Pensacola, Fla., where top pro, college and high school kickers convene for three weeks of serious training and comparing techniques. “And it still feels great seeing where I’m listed this year.
“But right now, I’m trying to get all of the attention behind me and focus on having another good year.”
Santos couldn’t have gotten any better last year.
He became the second person in Division I history to be perfect on more than 20 field-goal attempts (21-for-21) including kicks of 57 and 54 yards that were the longest in school history, two of the 11 that he made from at least 40 yards out.
Santos, who prepped at St. Joseph’s Academy in St. Augustine, Fla., was 26-of-27 on extra points and handled the team’s kickoff duties.
“I learned how to limit my reps and visualize what I was supposed to be doing,” said Santos, who went 11-for-18 on field goals in 2011 as he dealt with a pulled groin.
“I really built up a quality technique, especially my swing,” he said.
“It gave me a high confidence level.”
However, Santos said he isn’t neglecting the physical side of kicking, which is a major component of the McCabe camp.
“We do a lot of intense core workouts and concentrate on our leg speed,” he said. “Once we get into the season, we work on technique, so this is like training camp for me.”
With his success last season, Santos said he considered declaring for the NFL draft but decided that completing his degree in management was worth more than taking his shot at the pros a year early.
“I’d like to be the first kicker drafted next year, but I know that only a couple are,” he said. “I’m still trying to establish my reputation.
“And then I’m hoping to get a shot in somebody’s camp.”