“I hadn’t done a long snap in a game since I was in eighth grade. ... and then coach came over to during the game and told me it was my time to step up, so I did. It was fun.” MATT MARIFSI Tulane tight end
The father of Tulane kicker Cairo Santos was killed in a plane crash Sunday, Green Wave coach Curtis Johnson said.
Tulane did not have full details on the incident, but Johnson said Santos’ father was a stunt pilot. Johnson said he was told an engine failure occurred.
Cairo Santos is in his native Brazil mourning the death, and his status for Saturday’s 11:30 a.m. game at Syracuse is uncertain. The Lou Groza Award winner and consensus All-American converted his 25th consecutive field goal — a 51-yarder — during Thursday’s 24-15 win over Louisiana Tech.
“We just want him to heal,” Johnson said. “If he’s at the game, he’s at the game. If not, we understand. He lost his father, who was a great man.”
Even if he’s able to make the trip, Johnson said he’ll leave the decision to play entirely up to Santos.
“Any time you have a tragedy like that, you are going to be worried a little bit,” Johnson said. “But I’ve learned over the years in my time with Cairo to trust him. If he’s comfortable with doing whatever, I’m going with Cairo. It’s no different than him telling me all the time he can make a kick, and he hasn’t missed one since I’ve been here.”
Santos ranks fifth among Tulane’s all-time scoring leaders with 249 points. He has made 49 of his 59 career field-goal attempts. The senior has attempted every field goal for the Green Wave since Ross Thevenot converted a 22-yarder in a 45-38 win over UTEP on Nov. 7, 2009.
If Santos is unable to play on Saturday, Johnson said he’ll use Steven Broccoli. The sophomore has never appeared in a college game, sitting out all of last season. But he did earn a three-star rating by KohlsKicking.com after making 11 of 16 field goals in his final season at Fordham Prep High School in New York.
Johnson declined to say how far Broccoli’s field-goal range expands but said he’ll likely start using more fourth-down plays to make up for the difference. Broccoli’s longest converted field goal in high school was 40 yards.
“Yes, I do know (his range),” Johnson said. “It’s a ‘not going to tell.’ I’ll let Syracuse find out what it is at the game.”
Whether or not Santos is able to play, there will be a shake-up on the Green Wave special teams.
Freshman deep snapper Michael Lizanich was benched midway through last week’s game, replaced on punts by starting tight end Matt Marifsi, and was not listed on Tulane’s official depth chart for this week.
Johnson pinned several of the Green Wave’s special teams errors this season on Lizanich, including a blocked punt resulting in a touchdown during Tulane’s 41-39 loss to South Alabama, and a fumbled snap on the opening drive of the Louisiana Tech game.
“The game may have just been too big for him,” Johnson said. “He gave up one against South Alabama, then turned around and made the same mistake. If he was a regular position player, you’d do the same thing. You’d sit him down and let him watch a little bit.”
On Saturday, Marfisi will handle longer snaps, and defensive tackle Julius Warmsley will take shorter ones. It’s not a familiar area for either player, but both claim to be ready for the added responsibility.
“I hadn’t done a long snap in a game since I was in eighth grade,” Marfisi said. “I really hadn’t practiced much except for a couple of warmups before the La. Tech game, and then coach came over to during the game and told me it was my time to step up, so I did. It was fun.
“It’s just another thing to add to the list this week, and it’s not that big of a deal. If they need me to do it, I’ll do it. I just need the repetition and fine tuning, because I haven’t really gotten any game reps in about a decade.”
Another noticeable absence on the Tulane depth chart was starting middle linebacker Dominique Robertson, who is suspended for the game because of a violation of team policy.
The senior has been one of the Green Wave’s most productive defenders this year, racking up 15 tackles (two for a loss), along with an interception, forced fumble, sack and pass break up.
Fellow senior Zach Davis, who was suspended for the first two games, will replace Robertson at the position and will be backed up by freshman Edward Williams, who sat out the first two games because of an ankle injury.
“I’m going to suspend (Robertson) for this game because of team policy,” Johnson said. “He just did some stuff that he shouldn’t have done. He won’t be going on the trip with us this week. We will just have to rely on some of the other guys. Edward Willliams will have to come to play. Zach Davis had a good game. Nico Marley will have to play more, and Eric Thomas will have to play more.
“We just can’t have this when building a program. We have to do everything right, and you can’t have things going awry.”