YSU seeks sixth year for Santiago

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo YSU senior point guard Francisco Santiago, center, is out for the season with an ACL tear to his right knee. Santiago cheers on his team during Thursday's win against Milwaukee. Teammates Jacob Brown, left, and John Kirinic, right, are also pictured.

YOUNGSTOWN — One thing Youngstown State point guard Francisco Santiago thought as he prepared for the 2017-18 season was that this was his final year of eligibility.

That may not be the case. This week, YSU men’s basketball coach Jerrod Calhoun said the university is pursuing another year of eligibility for Santiago, advocating on behalf of their student-athlete.

He suffered an ACL tear this summer and will have surgery this Tuesday. The NCAA states that a student-athlete can get a sixth year of eligibility if their circumstances are beyond their control, like an incapacitating injury.

“It’s a very unique case and we’re trying to get all the facts, documents,” Calhoun said. “As I reiterated to Cisco and Cisco’s mother, we’re all about the student-athlete to make sure these kids get a fair shake. I know (YSU Director of Athletics) Ron Strollo is on board as well.

“The university is on board to try to make this thing happen. Sometimes these things are out of our hands. I’m a big believer where there’s a will, there’s a way. I think this young man has given everything he’s got to our university. There’s a lot of good things he’s done, so hopefully he’ll get rewarded.”

Calhoun said the university is trying to get all the facts related to the case, something he told Santiago and his mother, Janet Montoya, who had questioned why her son was not being considered for a medical redshirt.

All parties involved in this matter are all on the same page. According to NCAA guidelines, this case cannot be submitted to the college athletics governing body until the end of the season.

Santiago spent his first season out of Cleveland St. Ignatius High School at Wheeling Jesuit as a partial qualifier, which means he received scholarship money but did not compete.

He saw an opportunity the next season (2014-15) to walk on to the YSU team. Now-retired coach Jerry Slocum gave Santiago the Division I opportunity he’d been seeking and he paid his own way while sitting out the season due to NCAA transfer rules.

Slocum put him on scholarship for the 2015-16 season and, in addition to being a two-year starter, he has been on the Dean’s list three times and had recorded at least a 3.0 GPA every semester.

According to documentation provided by YSU Associate Director of Athletics Elaine Jacobs (in charge of compliance), which is from the NCAA, the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons were within Santiago’s control. His current injury is not within his control.

Santiago suffered his injury while playing in a summer league, and an MRI revealed the injury almost a week later. He had a choice, play through with a brace or have surgery.

It was possible to get through the pain of the knee, but no way Santiago would be his normal self, a player who was willing to sacrifice his body. Those intangibles made him invaluable, especially to a new coach like Calhoun, who saw the 6-foot redshirt senior as a catalyst for a potential uptempo program.

Calhoun even said that without Santiago, the Penguins left a handful of wins on the table. That’s how much impact this energetic player had on the young YSU team, full of newcomers and freshmen, sprinkled with a handful of returning players. Santiago, not close to 100 percent, played with a knee brace.

During the Nov. 29 game against Robert Morris, a player fell on that knee tearing cartilage. His season was finished and, so it seemed, his playing days also.

Santiago, a business management major slated to graduate in May, has received many academic honors.

“I appreciate that more than anything,” Santiago said. “Just happy they’re on board, they’re doing it to help me out, give me an extra year.”

It would give YSU a chance to see their hard-working point guard in action another season.

He learned about sacrifice at an early age though his parents. Santiago saw how hard his parents worked to provide for him and his brothers and sisters. They helped get Santiago through that year he was a walk-on with tuition.

He worked hard on the court and in the classroom to be the best he could be.

By this time next week, he’ll be thinking about how he will approach his physical therapy — probably making his doctors anxious how fast he wants to dive into his recovery.

He couldn’t practice this summer, having to work with trainer Todd Burkey and ride an exercise bicycle. The brace followed.

It wasn’t the same, but he’ll find a new path after Tuesday’s surgery. YSU is hopeful that it can provide the road for Santiago with a sixth year of eligibility.

“You’re going through this for a reason,” Santiago said. “I don’t know what the reason is, but there’s a reason why God picked me to go through it. It sucks, but there’s always something else going on and the bigger picture. Nothing happens without God’s approval. That’s how I went about it and tried to deal with it.”